Take the day Larock, his brother Durl and his other brother Derl were walking along the woodland trail in middle Britain. Hearing the deep guttural growl of a saber-tooth tiger off in the distance, and not relishing the idea of being the first Lunchable, they paid attention. Their decision to steer clear of the Smilodon kept them alive. After all, so many berries to gather, so many fish to catch; so little time…
Over time, we bipeds got really good at this whole warning game. I mean really, who does signal fires and beating drums anymore? As a species, we’ve toyed, tinkered and tweaked the idea to the point where bank alarms are now silent (see definition of oxymoron); every town in the Midwest has a tornado siren; and the first Tuesday morning of the month has that bad hearing test tone thing TV and radio stations do. After a minute or two of an eardrum piercing tone, they follow with the comforting words, “Had this been an actual emergency,…”
No matter the era, the idea of warning has been part and parcel of our development. We get it. We like feeling better for having warning systems around us. And with the exception of the guy who occasionally parks his car alarm underneath my window on Sunday mornings, we pay attention to them. Take a look at your car’s dashboard the next time you start up. I’ve got warning lights for stuff I don’t even know about and even then, I only see them for a brief moment when I turn the key.
Much of my spiritual and emotional resurrection had to do with paying attention to my emotional dashboard. Fixing broken connections, replacing burnt out bulbs and learning what to do when one of my ‘warning lights’ started making a fuss. As important as all that has been, I learned something else along the way. Some of the best warnings aren’t the buzzers or bells that sound when something is wrong. Some of them are passive in their proactive purpose of keeping us safe.
As early as I can remember, I loved the water. Many was the summer I spent on the water of Green Bay. Motor boats were my first love. When I was around 11 or 12, my dad bought an old Lyman on the understanding that if I did the work to restore her, I could use her.
I did the work. I restored her mahogany deck work. I polished the brass and scraped more old paint than I care to remember. But as I sweated, I got strong. I learned respect for the boat’s structure…her purpose.
But it wasn’t all about the craft. It was the discipline that went with using her in her restored glory. I learned how to read charts and the weather. And while my only instruments were a throttle, a compass, some maps and the gas gauge on the 5-gallon fuel box that fed my Johnson outboard, I learned how to be safe.
By the time I was in high school, I’d gotten my first sailboat. Only 16′ long, I spent many a day out on the water. Without a motor to propel her, I depended on learning the wind and how to harness it in the sails above my head. While I was doing that, I learned to keep another eye on currents around me and bottom underneath. No dashboard, no instruments – only the sound of the sails answering the slapping waves breaking across my bow. Sometimes I’d be gone for an hour or two…sometimes the whole afternoon. By the time I was 15-16, there were times I made my adventure into an overnight thing, pulling my little boat up on a stony beach, cooking my dogs and beans over a small fire I’d built from driftwood.
Laying there on my back, looking up at the stars, I listened to the water meeting the beach and heard my heartbeat.
Those were some of the happiest moments of my life. A boy and his boat!
While my sailboat didn’t have any instrumentation, I knew to trust buoys, harbor lights and landmarks like the Cana Island lighthouse. When I saw her, I knew where I was at and where the rocks were going to be. Lighthouses are smart like that. No buzzers, bells or ding-dings, lighthouses know things about where they stand. They know what’s around them and they don’t go home when the winter waves grow to the size of houses. For centuries, sailors have depended on lighthouses to keep them clear of reefs, shallows and rocky coasts.
The older I get, the more thankful I become for a few special people who were my lighthouses. They never dinged, chimed or beeped. They just were. When I couldn’t trust much of the raging gale around me, I knew if I could catch a glimpse of them through the howling rain, I was going to be OK. I celebrate their silent witness that brought me and my Soul safely home.
These many years later, I salute them by being true to my beliefs. I have conviction about where I stand and what I stand for. I’m brought to my knees when I learn that someone else is looking at me the same way. It rarely needs to be mentioned or discussed, but it’s no less powerful.
You know what it feels like to be a very little boat in very big water. That’s why your presence on this earth is significant. It’s the first feeling that makes you into a lighthouse for those around you. You know where the rocks are and you know how to find the safe channels though them. You probably don’t think about it very often, but there are others depending on your Light to help them find their own way. Tend to your light. Keep your lenses clean.
Stand tall. Be bright. Guide those lost to their homes tonight.
Cana Island Lighthouse
Pen and Ink Drawing by Dan4Kent (1981)
Photo Credits and Attributions: Saber Tooth Stops by for Lunch – http://www.dipity.com/lithosphere/personal/; Warning Lights: http://www.service-plus.co.uk/redhill-car-servicing-reigate/warning-lights; Lyman Boat – http://www.atlastalpacas.com/Fishing.htm; Nighttime Sky by Don Dixon – http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=the-night-sky-will-fade-to-black
Cana Island Lighthouse – http://blog.m2creativedesign.com/2011/09/cana-lighthouse-kite-aerial-photography.html
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