I’ve always been drawn, like moth to mystical flame, to lighthouses. I have had, since childhood, a longstanding mental love affair with the beacon of hope that lights the way. I am perplexed as to the cause for this affinity. Perhaps it just the romantic idea of living alone along craggy coastline, smelling the ocean breezes, in exchange for maintaining a light when e’er storms clouds boom and the sea roils.
While I can’t deny that I’d still love to be the sole light-keeper in an old whitewashed lighthouse somewhere along the Atlantic coast, I must admit that I believe my enchantment with the structure is more philosophical than not. I believe it is the towering totem of the lighthouse with which I’m enamored. The idea, rather, of what the pillar hoisting the lamp above the waves represents.
At a point during this last summer season, I explored the depths of my own sea of thoughts with regard to lighthouses – specifically, what happens to that mariner’s ever-steady beacon once the storms subside and the ships are safely at port. A simple search for images of “old lighthouses” laid out a clear picture, an answer that I’d already concluded, at least partially, for myself.
Lighthouses, when they are not standing sentinel in the storm, are left to die of neglect.
The lantern stops working, and the lenses become clouded from no longer being cleaned and waxed. The clockwork gears in the watch room become rusted shut, no longer rotating. The outward façade chips and dilapidates, and the brick and motor surrender to their fate decrepit. The staircase falters and falls, and there’s no life left inside, because the Wickie long ago abandoned his post.
There’s a profound sense of meaninglessness inhabiting the fractured structures of a lighthouse left to die. To understand that this now weakened pillar once stood towering, white-washed and polished against Davy Jones’ rage is now depleted and faltering, slowly decaying into oblivion, is cause for profound feelings of loss.
An old lighthouse is what existential crisis would look like if said crisis was built with brick and clay.
I’m sure the lighthouse must feel accomplished in her purpose as she withstands the waves. Surely the sacrifices she makes as she’s battered by salty seas and chaffing winds, and as her windows rattle from thunderous claps of angry skies, don’t feel nearly as taxing at the time of the storm as they do afterwards. Yet, when the skies clear and the coastline becomes a calm courtship between warm sands and lazy tides, her wounds go untended. When it’s all said and done, no mariner graces her walls with fresh coats of paint. There’s never a sailor one that kisses the beams that hold her up and thanks her for her sacrifice by polishing the lantern glass or cleaning the lenses.
I proudly admitted once, foolishly (isn’t that always the way it works? pride, usually accompanied by foolishness?) that I wanted to “be a lighthouse.” I didn’t consider at that time that Life has a twisted way of taking your desires, fouling them, and then serving them back to you, a putrid dish of once unblemished imaginations turned sour. As a result, I now look back at those emphatic assertions I initially made and realize that the fulfillment of that “noble” desire came with a price – the same toll that the old lighthouse pays when the storms are over and their usefulness has been extinguished.
The thing is, I’m told with regularity how much I am needed. While I am positive that is meant as a balm, no one quite realizes that being needed drains the soul; and I am utterly drained. The perplexing thing is, I no longer feel saddened by the tattered remains of what used to be a lighthouse. I understand.
To be left alone, finally, after years of being needed is, despite its forlorn appearance, welcomed. Granted, there may never be a time where any soul that once needed returns to tend to the needs of the giver, but that in and of itself is a way of returning kindness. To let the empty lighthouses die slowly, quietly, and alone – in peace. No longer does the thought of becoming a shell – torn, worn, destroyed – feel like a betrayal. Just the opposite – it is a respite.