“Don’t fight darkness—bring the light, and darkness will disappear.”—Maharashi Mahesh Yogi
“Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.”—Anne Lamott
I listened to the interview with minimal interest. Not that the story being told by both the interviewer and interviewee were without merit, I just wasn’t fully focused. My mind was adrift in a sea of thoughts tossing pell-mell from one aspect of my life to another and another. Still, something kept drawing my attention back to the ongoing radio interview as I made my way to work on autopilot one morning in August.
“My role is to be like a lighthouse, keep shining a light on the danger, so that others can avoid the nightmare that I encountered.”
That was it–the lighthouse analogy! Divine providence was whispering a lesson; yet it would take months before the seed fully began to emerge. Even as I typed the words that evening on a blank document, so that I would not forget to explore/write about the concept, unseen and unclear sprouts for rooting around for greater understanding even if I wasn’t consciously aware of them.
Months later, I noticed on my Google calendar that Diwali, the festival of lights for those of the Hindu faith, would be soon occurring. While I am not of the Hindu faith, I fondly recalled attending a local Diwali celebration last year in which several of my current and former students from St. Joseph Catholic School would be performing. My husband, John, and I attended the colorful and highly symbolic celebration together. We learned many interesting facts, including that the essential meaning of the five-day festival of lights (although there is more than this simple definition) is to celebrate the ultimate victory of good over evil and light over darkness.
In fact, one person of the Hindu faith recently explained to me that Diwali also serves as a reminder to shine the light for others who have strayed, made mistakes, and otherwise have not been living a good life, so that they can find their way out of the darkness and return to living in the light. This same person also shared that the darkness must be fully experienced in life in order to truly appreciate the light.
“Sometimes we go through bad experiences, make mistakes or poor decisions, but it is those very events that teach us how to crawl out of the tunnel and move toward the light.”
This person went on to explain that in order to create a movie, one must have proper lighting. Without light, the story cannot be filmed; and yet, without the darkness in which to view the movie, the story cannot be told.
“You see, Stephanie, we need both light and darkness in our life. Darkness is not to be feared, but it must be passed through in order to understand and embrace the light.”
I was reminded of a trip John and I took several years ago when Maddie, our daughter, was quite young. We were hiking and encountered a natural tunnel that, at one time, served as a one-lane road to get from one side of a mountain to the other. Now it served as a tourist attraction for hikers and visitors to walk through. There were signs posted all around the entrance to warn visitors, that the tunnel would get very dark, and that visitors were encouraged to have some form of light.
Once fully away from the light of the entrance, I began to feel nervous as I held Maddie’s hand. Fear’s tentacles gripped my claustrophobic mind as I was certain disease-infested rodents, nefarious criminals, and other pernicious creatures surrounded our little family. We walked for what seemed like an inordinate amount of time, and I was quite certain this was really an insidious trap for which there was no escape. Then the first sliver of light could be seen ahead, and my heart slowly resumed its normal rhythm.
There have been times in my life in which I made a succession of mistakes so bad and so numerous, it seemed as if I would never dig myself out of such deep, dark hole. Likewise, I have experienced horrific life events for which there was no rhyme or reason, and I also felt as if I would never again see the light of day. Like that dark tunnel, those dark life occurrences left me feeling trapped, scared, and lacking trust/faith. However, it is those very experiences that not only inform my present day decisions and actions, but also increase my appreciation for, well, the light, the happier moments in life. Furthermore, it is those very happenings from which I gained strength and knowledge in order to help, or at the very least, offer empathy and understanding to others.
Lighthouses serve two purposes, as I understand it, to serve as navigational aids and to warn boats of dangerous areas. They are painted differently, depending upon the background for which they are built—lighter colors for lighthouses built against a darker background, and brighter colors and patterns for those built in light-colored, sandy/rocky surroundings. Additionally, they are built of varying heights, depending upon if they are to dwell above the water or closer to the water’s surface. In fact, even the lights within each lighthouse often possess different and various flash patterns to guide and inform mariners along coasts and/or through fog.
And, so the lesson of the lighthouse comes down to this. The world, it seems to me, sure could benefit from more people serving as the humble lighthouse. Our life experiences, the good, the bad, and the ugly, have shaped us into the person that we are today. Those dark and light experiences–the mistakes, tragic events, and even glories— serve as a personal teacher. Therefore, why not allow those same experiences to help others navigate through both calm and stormy waters? It doesn’t require a bully pulpit, flashy interventions, or various other methods of gaining attention. Rather, it only requires the embodiment of the humble lighthouse, an unpresumptuous fixture within its own community; consistently shining, day-in and day-out; quietly standing up, even when unobserved; offering light, radiance, and guidance to passersby without searching for an audience.