When I get ready to write this monthly column, I call upon the universe for some muse. I’m not asking much, just a little grace from the magical, elusive word gnomes that can set me on my way to a decent and inspired collective thought. A little creative WD-40 to get things going and make everything in my brain glide a bit better. Luckily, I came across this Anne Lamott quote:
“Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.”
This quote got me thinking about lighthouses. The fantastic people in my life I lean on when the going gets rough, or I’m feeling less than OK. That call I can make when it’s too late or early for most, or an immediate response to the text — “Got one minute?”
Often of late, I have felt powerless. Adrift in the day-to-day routine of the uncertainty of what’s to happen, what the hell to do to survive as an artist during this economic and seemingly societal meltdown we are all going through. What about all those terrific plans I had worked on so diligently since getting sober in November 2014? Those were meant to position my life at this age, at this stage. It’s easy to get off course and feel like I’m drifting, no shore to sight, no dock to tie up on and stabilize my life. It could be effortless to lose all that I have worked for and drink or use again. It’s happening in the sober community: Many have fallen in the past months. I am one drink away from joining them at any time.
But… I know that won’t work. I am an alcoholic, and I have the disease of addiction. Thankfully, I am not alone. Others like me hold up the lantern and light the way when I get lost in the dark. And during my journey, I have met some great humans that stood in their strength and showed me the way to live.
Lighthouses. People from all walks of life. Some are in the recovery community, and they share with me how they stopped using and give me the drive to help others do the same. The best of the best, they show me how to live by letting me watch them work their lives and their program. People that are often very imperfect in many ways but are still willing to lift me and love me when I don’t feel much love for me.
Today, my lighthouses can be in and out of my sober community. They are the friendly checkout lady at the health food store who always raises her head to say hello and smile. It is that slightly shy guy at the big box chain store wiping down carts, reminding me of the fundamental dignity of work. It’s the breakfast place in Wallhaven supporting racial and social justice. It’s my Christian pastor friend that texts me to check in, even though I am not a flock member, proving to me that it is still possible in this day and age to have a fundamentally different point of view without hate. It’s my children, checking in on their dad, who lives alone 600 miles away, even though there’s nothing new to say, ending each call with “I love you, dad.” They remind me of the blessing of the family reserve that I have now that I did not have growing up.
Lighthouses just stand. They don’t tell you who to vote for or to lay off the booze or to pull your pants up and balance your checkbook. Lighthouses smile that ear-to-ear grin that adds an exclamation point without saying one damn word.
Read another way, the quote suggests that we can be lighthouses for others. It starts with knowing who we are and standing steady in our power. Maybe today I can get over myself long enough to be a beacon of light to someone. Perhaps I can climb out of my self-centered thinking and lean in and listen to that friend that sits across the table in that outdoor-only coffee shop, and look deep into the eyes of another human and pause to understand. Wait till they are finished talking and not to respond with some sort of autobiographical advice full of Marc’s wisdom. Maybe just nod my head and start a sentence with the words, “Tell me more.”
A comforting smile and listening in attentive silence is sometimes the best gift we can give each other when there is a need to open our hearts in safety. Be that little spark of hope that flickers in the distance for a friend who needs a direction to row in the darkness.
Lighthouses just shine and shine and shine.
Reach Marc Lee Shannon at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo: Angelo Merendino. Used with permission from Marc Lee Shannon.