Holding and protecting a candle in the dark
Last updated 2/7/2023 at Noon
I heard a writer say he saw his writing as a candle in the dark. I love that image — the idea that words can light a way for someone else. It’s also a big burden to shoulder. I feel mine sagging under the pressure just thinking about it. But I also read that this is my moment to shed self-doubt and be who and what I was born to be. Do the things I was meant to do.
Can I be a candle in the dark? First, I must light my own candle and make sure the flame can’t be easily extinguished. Resilience and fortitude are qualities I’m beginning to understand and respect. The question is how to integrate them into my life.
Sometimes when I get up in the dark, slide into my slippers, and make my way for a midnight pee, I close my eyes to see. There’s no reason to even try to make out hallway walls, the bathroom doorway, or the porcelain toilet against the southern wall. I just know they’re there and my steps and memory will guide me to my destination. Is that how I can be a candle in the dark? By closing my eyes to see?
I heard lately, too, that sometimes you have to stop thinking before your body can do what it knows how to do.
Thinking seems different than creating.
Thinking is based on what I’ve learned.
Creating comes from a source unnamed.
How I light a candle will require sliding a match across an abrasive surface to startle the bulbous red end into sparkling life.
Somewhere inside me, there’s a match waiting to be pulled quickly, without a thought.
I know how to light a match.
I don’t need to think about it, just do it.
It’s time to stop thinking so much.
It’s time to light the match and start. It’s time to begin moving toward an unknown destination.
It’s time to forget about who’s following, or reading, or judging, or wondering who I think I am.
It’s time to reach beyond what’s safe and familiar.
A candle in the darkness will go out if there’s wind blowing in from cracks and corners needing insulation from what’s outside the walls of refuge.
I will cup my left hand around the flame and protect it from sources that extinguish efforts.
It’s time to begin, move ahead, and believe I can be a candle in the dark.
That there is something I can say and share that will make a difference — even to one person.
I know, somehow, that’s why I’m here.
Writing is my art, my craft, my reason for being.
Believing that has been difficult, often extinguished by others, but mostly by me.
I will cup my left hand around the flame and see it flicker in darkness and reveal what’s on the walls around me.
Then I will remember what I’ve seen, heard, and felt and try to describe them in a way that is meaningful.
I will remember the wind blowing the tops of juniper trees, the waving of a tattered American flag by the barn, and the dogs’ growling play as they pick up the bones of the dead and chew on them.
I will remember the puffy, sandy, sterile soil that finds a way through socks and shoes into the crevices of my toenails.
And how good it feels to quit fearing the possibility of a falling tree.
I will remember that fear is a choice.
An option I will reject more than embrace.
I will feel the wind on my skin and write it all down.
I will watch the tree sway, hear it crackle, and feel tiny bits of it hitting my face.
I will take the risk of being too slow to move away from what may fall.
I will look up on the hillside that protects our home but can also block the sunlight.
I will remember when lightning exploded the old-growth juniper just thirty feet from our house.
I’ll also remember the kindness of our neighbor who showed up with his chainsaw, tractor, and woodchipper to help us remove the broken remains of that majestic tree.
How we turned its bark and rings going back hundreds of years into small pieces, easier to manage.
How I can use that same tactic to manage heavy memories and the sharp edges that go with them.
Now that tree is a stump on the hillside. I look at it and imagine what kind of sculpture or rock formation I could put on it. How that addition could turn something long gone into something beautiful and pleasing. It’s my turn to illuminate what’s possible, then build it, create it, urge it into being. I’ve been sharpening my chains and blades long enough. It’s time to start the work and see what’s possible, and what’s waiting for the light.