How To Lighthouse

There was an island.
At its center was a village,
and on its shore there was a port.
And somewhere between here and there,
There was a lighthouse.


Travelers who wished to pass from the village to the port faced several trials:
A plunge into uncertainty;
The surrendering of their security;
And a long, pitch-black tunnel that twisted and turned and seemed of variable length.


All who passed through survived, but few made the trip unchanged.

These are the stories of the lighthouse-keepers, who kept watch over the travelers.


Does it sound like a fairy tale? A fable? it was that. But it was also real.

Invitees would open the front door with individual but mysterious keys and discover a narrow slide twisting down into nothingness. They were usually alone. They were instructed to leave behind all they carried and enter a door into darkness, all without encountering another human being or, indeed, any sound other than an insistent chiming noise and the susurration “shhhhhhhhh..” Does it sound terrifying? Daunting? Exciting? It was that. Or, indeed, many were terrified, many were daunted. Many were reduced to tears. One person never made it down the slide, instead fleeing to the street outside, never to return. One person got to the bottom of the slide and climbed back up. This is more improbable than it sounds. But so was the existence of this place.

I was a lighthouse-keeper, or so we came to be called. I began my tenure after I met a light-haired man at a gathering of like mind at heart, when I commented on the lighthouse lapel pin he was wearing. “What does it mean?” I asked, and he handed me a business card bearing nothing more than an engraving of a lighthouse on a rocky shore…and an email address. I applied the next day.

At first, the learning curve was the deep and distracting part: just making sure all the signs and symbols triggered at the proper times kept me on my toes. I learned the ideal number of cubes of ice to place on the bar and how to indicate that the bottle of spirit on the bar was a rare and precious elixir, not merely a combination of ingredients that could be purchased at the liquor store. I learned the maximum number of seconds someone could take in the dark tunnel before I began to worry about them (there were no cameras there). I began to read body language. I turned up the sound in the tunnels, listening for rapid breathing, muffled panic, travelers singing themselves through the dark.

Caring about these strangers, invitees who had no idea I was there if they needed me (unless they needed me, and some of them needed me very much) began to bleed out into my daily life. It emerged from that subterranean concept piece and spread out to the street. And the street above this adventure was not clean, polite, or smooth; it was home to junkies, addicts, and people at very low points in their lives. And the city that housed this adventure was filled with people who are moving every day through some very real darkness. I began to hold my hand out to people, when I felt I could. I carried laundry carts up stairs. I helped people who were lost without a map, people who had fallen down in the road. I was shocked to be the only one to help a blind man who’d blundered into crosswalk against the light, while everyone honked their horns and shouted. And if there was nothing else I could do, I told more people hello, I see you. I said take care. I said I wish you well.

Lighthousing showed me that even sturdy people can be afraid, even the confident have cracks in their shells, even the jaded can be brought to tears if you read them the right kind of story. Lighthousing allowed me to lead people I did not know and might never meet. It offered me an excuse to give of myself, without expectation of thanks or any kind of recognition. It allowed me a safe way to feel soft.

On the very last day of the House, on my very last Lighthouse shift, after I knew that the space was to be closed, I arrived early and looked around. There were sticky spots on the polished surface of the bar and smudges on the surface of the glass case. I fought in my mind with the urge to make it all right. “It doesn’t matter,” I thought to myself. But it did. If there isn’t anything else I can do, at least I can make this one space more pleasant to be in. So I fetched a fresh cloth and I began to polish the bar. Through all those days of placing the ornaments just so, of counting the glasses and arranging them properly, of making sure everything shone, I had learned that caring about even the smallest things did matter. That’s where it begins.


There is nothing stopping you... Community Entry Wednesday May 20th, 2015 - Frances Natt McGill 2 minute read.

...from writing poems and leaving them in the street. From hanging shining glass ornaments in a tree, organizing an art exhibit on a fence, installing guerilla sculptures, nailing shoebox dioramas to telephone poles.
There is nothing stopping you from gathering those of like mind and heart (or going it alone) and going out under cover of night to scatter joy on the world like snow in a shook-up snowglobe. You can speak in hidden languages, if you like - but sometimes the simplest installation, with its own sly wink --hello, this is for you, because you noticed it. we are here, and so are you. hello -- is enough.
There is nothing stopping you, as long as you realize that you are doing this for no one you may know, that it may be destroyed or stolen or wash away in the rain, or that some stranger will fold his arms, shake his head, scoff. Urban whimsy. Ugh. At the bottom of it all, that is true freedom. Do it for yourself, and you only have to finish the task to satisfy your intended audience. Place the bird feeder and someone will smash it, and when you tearily tell your street art friend about it, he will say but it lasted six months? that's amazing! and you'll realize what he says is true.
Doing something is better than nothing, right? Stretch your muscles, shake it out, make that thing, and then keep going. Place the secret and then walk swiftly away. This is your permission. You already had it.



FarCry - Mollio