Day 103: “A Single Candle”

This morning, I found an e-mail in my inbox referencing a recent speech by UK politician Caroline Lucas, who ended her remarks by quoting a Chinese proverb: “It is better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness.”

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I’ve always liked the imagery of light – especially candles and stars – because they offer a sense of peace and security among the dark and the unknown.

I read an article recently about a group of British scientists who caused a bit of controversy when they concluded that the light from the flame of a single candle can “only” be seen a little more than a mile and a half away (far lower than previous estimates of three to thirty miles). I put the word “only” in quotation marks, because that’s still an incredible distance for the light of a single candle to travel – especially when you think about how easily a single puff of breath or drop of rain could extinguish it. It amazes me that something some fragile and so vulnerable can still be so powerful – and still reach so far.

I know it’s not an exact comparison, but a one-inch flame being seen for a mile and a half is like a five-foot, ten-inch man reaching out and touching something more than a hundred miles away.

That’s impressive.

I read another article recently about the star Deneb (a.k.a. Alpha Cygni), which is one of the brightest – and most distant – stars in the Milky Way galaxy. Estimates of its brightness and its distance from Earth vary from study to study (and source to source), but even the most conservative estimates place it more than a thousand light years from Earth, which not only means that the light it produces today will not be visible to us until the next millennium but also means that once it stops burning, we still we see its light for more than a thousand years.

I want to say that again: a thousand years after it stops burning, we’ll see be seeing its light.

That’s impressive, too.

Despite its seeming vulnerability and apparent transience, light has an incredible amount of power and resilience.

Whether we believe it or not (and some days it’s harder to believe than others), there is light inside each of us.

Sometimes it feels really fragile – like a single puff of breath or drop of rain could extinguish it – but it’s more resilient than we sometimes believe. Sometimes it feels really dim – like it could never even reach someone sitting right across from us – or really weak – like it could never last more than a few fleeting seconds – but it’s stronger and more enduring than we sometimes believe.

Sometimes, some of our light dies fast. That’s the way life works. But sometimes some of it lasts longer than we could ever imagine: shining farther – and stronger – and longer – than we ever thought possible.

When we give our light to the world, we’re never sure how far it’s going to reach – or strong it’s going to be – or long it’s going to last. It’s not about being sure. It’s about being open and sharing our light and letting it do as much as it can before it finally burns out – or, maybe, like the light from Deneb, even after it does.

I’m going to bring this (admittedly slightly meandering) rumination to a close with an excerpt from the lyrics of the Swell Season song “This Low,” and I’m going to ask you, as you read these four stanzas, to remember never to stop sharing your own light with the world.

“Shine the light
Don’t hide the light
Live the light
And give the light

Seek the light
And speak the light
Crave the light
And brave the light

Stare the light
And share the light
Show the light
And know the light

Raise the light
And praise the light
Thread the light
And spread the light”


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