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Watching for the light

I can't tell you how many summers I've spent rereading Virginia Woolf's “To the Lighthouse.”

Let's just say many.

It's a difficult book. And who wants difficult in the summer, or anytime, really? (Apologies to my book club, who gamely read it with me one recent summer.)

When it was published in 1927, some critics complained that there was no story, no plot. I get it: most of the book takes place over seven hours in the Ramsey family's summer house on the Isle of Skye and centers on the doings (and interior thoughts) of the family (mainly Mrs. Ramsey) and their guests. Not exactly captivating, I know.

And yet, and yet... something about it keeps drawing me back. I think I'm trying to glean the lessons it bestows, especially from Mrs. Ramsey. I'm sure they're in there. Somewhere.

Mrs. Ramsey curates, for her family and friends, the quotidian elements of life, the “little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark.” She makes people stop amid the unrelenting passage of time and savor a particular moment. She exhorts life to “stand still here.” And sometimes, illuminatingly, it does.

Don't we all want to do that for each other? To remind ourselves and those closest to us that life is revealing itself every second, and that we can be enriched by those moments.

I realized that in a simple – and yet, extraordinary to me – message I got recently from a long-ago coworker:

My file cabinets are overflowing, so I'm going through select files and reading through letters you wrote from Lansing in the 1990s. Very enjoyable. You were so gracious. I was miscast in my role as a citizen of Lenawee County and really on an island there, so you helped to mitigate the loneliness and lack of fulfillment. Your letters are keepers!

I didn't write those letters with any aspiration of influencing my coworker's existence.

But I have no doubt I wrote them intending to make him feel better. Just to acknowledge in so many words: You do good work. We need you. Thanks.

It makes me hope that I may have, at least once, unexpectedly struck a match in the dark.

I'm going back to the lighthouse now for more fuel.


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Aug 04, 2023

So you're saying the novel isn't opaque, it's prismatic.

-- Unstuck from Lenawee

Sharon Emery
Sharon Emery
Aug 07, 2023
Replying to

Exactly! We should always be looking for prisms, but usually choose opaque so we don't have to adjust to something new. I get it.


We never know when we are going to be the light for someone else. I've been told I have been, long after the moment it happened and I was so surprised -- I just said what was true. But it needed to be heard at that moment. And I know that there are those who have done just the same for me -- the right words or deed at the right time, done because that is just what one "does," without thinking of the impact. I can't believe I've never read this. I think I may have to add it to the list. (That darned list -- it gets bigger every day.) ~~ jeanie

Sharon Emery
Sharon Emery
Aug 03, 2023
Replying to

You're right, Jeanie. And as George Eliot noted: What do we live for, if not to make life less difficult for one another?

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