On Lighthouses

A lighthouse doesn’t run around looking for ships to save. 

A fairly obvious statement, one would think, but one that holds a lot of truth. I like these sort of axioms (a statement that holds a self evident truth). I find them a simple guide to some of life’s more complex dilemmas. They may at first glance be trite, and some of them are overused to the point of being meaningless, but on the whole they are worth a second look. 

I used to be a bit of whatever the opposite of a lighthouse is. Always trying to help where help wasn’t asked for. I think I did some good too, but when it came time to help myself I had nothing left to give so burdened was I by the weight of other people’s hardships. 

So, I retracted and for a while just focussed on me. This confused the people I always was there for and it infuriated me. You see, when you run around helping people you expect the same in return. This is an unreasonable expectation and it takes some getting over. 

Where am I going with this? I recently heard of someone that I’ve known for a very short time who has some personal hardship. Some real personal stuff; the stuff that can destroy a man. 

As is my nature I want to run over and offer assistance. But, I remind myself, a lighthouse doesn’t run around looking for ships to save. 

So what then does a lighthouse do? A lighthouse stands still and calm and emits a beacon of safety and trust. Just that. It allows passing ships to make a decision as to their course and let’s them live out that decision without interference or judgement. It also provides a fixed point for the ship to recalculate its position by and thereby to avoid ruin; and it does this by just being there. 

I have a friend who some years ago was in poor form. Family troubles, business troubles and disasters of some magnitude came in waves, and he looked near to collapse. I wanted to fix it, to make it right, to tell him to lay his problems on me; but I couldn’t force it. He was too proud and to do this would possibly have been the worst move ever. 

So I took him fishing. Nothing hectic, just a day of tossing flies at a small dam in relaxing surroundings. And I stood there. And I said nothing. But I stood close. 

As the rhythm of the day unfolded he started with “do you know what really gets me down?”. I finished my cast, adjusted the line at my feet and said “what?”. And he told me a bit. A heart aching bit. 

I said nothing. He clipped off his fly and changed pattern. Very quietly he said “I don’t know whether I can take this any more”. Clipping off my own fly and busying myself gave him time to think. “What can’t you take?”

And he told me. We drifted together and apart as we covered the water and each time we came close he would release more emotion, and I’d absorb it. 

At the end of the day we drive home in silence. He slept most of the way. I dropped him off and he thanked me for listening. Not for doing anything. He told me I’d really helped when I did not do anything at all. 

He got his shit together and his life has taken a total turn for the better, I’m happy to say. I’m not suggesting I had anything to do with it but perhaps I gave him the space to find some perspective. Perhaps it was just a day on the water without anyone offering sympathy or advice or direction. Maybe it was just the mess of fish that he caught and released. 

A lighthouse, you see, doesn’t run around looking for ships to save. 

Maybe you have a friend who could do with a day on the water; with lighthouse by his side. I know of at least one out there, but he’s a long way away. I’m hoping that someone closer can be his lighthouse. 


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