Ever since Roberto started working at Seasons 52, I’ve been leaving the living room light on for him when he works the dinner shift. That usually means I’m at least in bed trying to sleep if not completely zonked out when he gets home, often after midnight. Last week, however, I went to the Charles King concert at Artomatic and I was the one coming home late. Ever thoughtful, Roberto left the big kitchen light on for me. He’s usually hungry when he gets home, so I took that as a hint and I’ve been making sure the kitchen is stocked.
What struck me tonight is that the very act of leaving the light on is a lonely, expectant one. It says “please come home, I’m waiting, I love you.” Filling the fridge means the same thing, especially when I’m filling it with spaghetti and meatballs. Interestingly, however, I’m not unhappy in this loneliness because I know it’s temporary. It will be over in just a few hours, sometimes sooner than expected.
And then I realized that is exactly how God feels about us. We wander away from Him, or even ignore Him, and yet there’s always a light on in Heaven, a place with our name on it. It’s not quite the same as leaving the door open, not as expectant or demanding as saying Call Me, Maybe, but rather the quiet, patient, constant love displayed as a twinkle in the sky or the blink of a firefly. “I made that, and I made you, and I hold you in the palm of My hand,” to paraphrase the prophet.
So why do we so often choose darkness over light? For me, the root of sin is often about fear. I lie, or fail to act, or break a commandment because I’m afraid of the consequences. The light comes with a price that I’m not always ready to pay. Hiding our lamps under a bushel is so easy. We can just sit on the bushel and stay put. No walking, growing or moving necessary. Lighting a lamp for others, being a beacon of hope, that’s work. It doesn’t just happen. But a major portion of it involves waiting.
This weekend, I attended the retirement Mass of a priest who has served the Church for 47 years. He spoke about the great gift of forgiveness, and his joy of sharing God’s forgiveness through the sacrament of Confession. Sometimes, he would sit in the confessional and no one would come. But he was there, waiting.
Many dioceses call their Lenten outreach program some variation of “The Light is On,” a weekly evening when every church offers the sacrament of Confession. The first time I saw a sign for a “Light is On” program was on the Metro in the spring of 2007. I had come to Washington DC to campaign for the passage of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program as part of my work with LA Voice PICO. It was an empowering experience to put my faith in action on Capitol Hill and then step into a public transit system and see the Catholic Church inviting people to come by. I found it very counter-cultural. I still do.
Much more common is the practice of leaving on nightlights for children. My dad always made sure we had nightlights. I don’t remember the nightmares or bedtime monsters that must have provoked this practice, but I do remember the little white bulbs they used and how they plugged straight into the wall. They weren’t strong enough to read by (I was reading at four so I hadn’t quite outgrown monsters), but they were bright enough to walk by. And the light meant someone was waiting for us, there if we needed them. It was a sign of total safety.
Maybe within each of us there’s still a three-year old with a nightlight. And that’s ok, because we are Loved.
Last night Nik Wallenda awed millions around the world by crossing Niagara Falls on a wire. When he arrived on the other side of the river, Canadian officials treated him like every other tourist. They asked for his passport and his purpose. From the heights of cloud nine he responded, “To inspire people around the world.”
Wallenda first dreamt of crossing Niagra Falls on a wire when he was six and visited the site with his family, the world famous Flying Wallendas. Funambulism is the family business, so such a feat might be the natural aspiration of a boy who began learning to walk a tight rope at the age of four. Twenty-four years after seeing the falls, he’s finally done it. That was a long quest, but it’s not supposed to be easy to walk 1800 feet across an international border on a wire. At night.
A Guinness world record holder, Wallenda faced years of negotiations to change the laws in two countries in order to get permission to cross the falls. ABC was willing to fund part of the feat and broadcast it live, but required Wallenda to wear a ten pound tether that trailed behind him. Even though several members of his family have died during their high wire stunts, Wallenda doesn’t wear a tether while performing and didn’t like the idea. Yet given the choice between either wearing a tether or not crossing the wire, he stuck to his dream.
Once the stunt was arranged, Wallenda prepared himself and his equipment, including wind and water practice sessions in a parking lot to imitate possible conditions over the falls. Though he objected to the requirement for a safety harness, he trained with the tether. He worked with his uncle, an engineer, to develop pendulum anchor weights since the wire could not be supported by stabilizing cables. He chose clothing that would keep him dry and wore shoes that his mother made for him. His father served as his safety coordinator. A born-again Christian, he prayed with his wife and children before the stunt. Though the wire walk was ‘only’ expected to take 30 minutes, the physical and mental challenges were immense.
Achieving this dream meant preparation, perseverance and compromise. There’s a lesson for all of us in that. It’s not the television special or the world record that put Nik Wallenda on cloud nine Friday night. It was the culmination of working so hard and having a transcendent experience. Often we only live on the edges of life, in the safe places. We forgo the challenges for the sure thing, or we get discouraged when life takes an unexpected turn. Trapped by expectation or fear, we linger where we are instead of moving forward. We hoard our dreams instead of planting them like seeds, and then we wonder at the dearth of flowers or fruit in our lives.