Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Lighthouses

Lighthouses have been around a long time.  Until the advent of radio technology, they were the only way to keep ships off the rocks along coastlines.  From a technological standpoint, they aren't very efficient and were very fallible.  If the lighthouse  keeper or the ships's crew made a mistake, the warning that the lighthouse was built to give failed to save the ship.  On our recent trip to Monterey, we drove north along the coastline and stopped at Pigeon Point, near Pescadero, where the old Lighthouse still stands.  It was one of those places we stop at on a whim, and these stops never fail to show us something amazing.

The old lighthouse is unsafe, but the visitor's center and hostel offer great views and a slice of history.  In this instance, it also offered a technology lesson and a chance to think about light.  This lighthouse was lit my a Fresnell Lens that once stood watch over Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.  It was taken down and stored away during the Civil War, but eventually, it came to live on the rocky, foggy shores of the Central California coastline.  It's beautiful, and now, over a hundred years after it's construction, it no longer watches over the shoreline. From it's display stand, it throws rainbows all over. It is a light saver. It takes a small amount of light and redirects it to make it brighter, more noticeable.  Dozens of hand ground glass pieces turn a rather small light bulb's output into a beacon.  Each facet, each panel serves a purpose, and together, they make a light greater than what the light source could make alone.

It reminded me that we can all do this. We gather up what light we can, whether it originates within us or merely touches our lives, and we can, through a little thoughtful focus and redirection, spread that light until it becomes a beacon to large and too bright to ignore.  Unlike the glass of the Fresnell lens (which incidentally, you have on your camera and car's exterior lamps), we must make the choice to spread light or to merely let it pass through us unacknowledged.  We are all capable of spreading light, even if we aren't the one with whom it originates.  I find this a beautiful thought, full of hope and a sense of power.  We don't even have to be perfect to do this. Notice the chips and nicks in the louvers of the top photo, even scarred, they are still capable of spreading the light that finds them.  Those scars may aim the light somewhere unexpected, away from the other beams, but they are spreading light just the same.

I think lighthouses still fascinate us because they are so simple an idea and so powerful an image. It's not hard to image being lost and in the dark, scared and wondering what to do, watching for any sign of the shore.  We all are looking for the beacon that will help us find our way, but we often forget that we are the travelers, the lighthouse keepers, and the lighthouse itself at different points in our journey. We can choose to take what light we have and spread it, or we can wander the darkness hoping to reach our destination safely, but the choice is ours.


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