Today, I was last minute Christmas shopping. I made my way through the crowded line, formed by racks of cheap candy and last minute trinkets. When it was my turn, line one light up. I walked up to the register, approaching the cashier with a smile. When she began taking my items, I let out a cheery “Hi! How are you today?”
She was a middle-aged woman—probably with kids who are now adults, maybe some with children of their own. Her eyes were soft, and nurturing, and tired. She seemed very nice upon approaching her, but when I reached the counter, she didn’t answer me. She looked at me like I had done something seriously wrong.
For a moment, I believed her. I was confused, and startled by the blunt silence. I stared back like I was seriously in trouble.
“Hi…” I said again. Maybe she hadn’t heard me.
She stared a moment longer, and then shook her head. She looked down like she was the child in trouble now. “I’m sorry,” she apologized. “I’m not used to that.”
“Used to what?” I asked, entertaining the thought—even though I had a very clear idea of what she was talking about.
“People being this nice,” she laughed a little bit, and looked down now as she scanned tags.
“Wait, that doesn’t happen?” my voice inflected in funny, fradulent disbelief.
I felt a little bit bad for pretending. Because none of this actually surprised me.
My heart sunk a little. No part of me was surprised by anything that happened in those two minutes. The conversation that took place, the way she described the rude and miserable and inconsiderate people she had interacted with—any of it. And writing this now, none of it surprises me at all, considering later this evening, a woman cut me in line and completely ignored me like I wasn’t even another human being standing there.
“Who do I need to beat up? I’ll go find them right now,” I joked with her. She finally cracked a smile, and I saw a little flicker of light return to her eyes.
It was a lighthouse moment.
And I guess that’s my lesson today.
We all learn from a very young age, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all” and “Be kind to others” and “Treat others the way you want to be treated.” This is all so simple, yet utterly overused—and now—empty. It’s the hum that goes in one ear and out the other; the fluttering that’s completely over our heads.
I have been roommates with my good friend, Ava, for two years now. Last year when we were hanging things in our sophomore dorm room, she put up a canvas that completely took me off guard.
“A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle.”
Since we’re being honest here, I had absolutely no idea what it meant. I’d like to think I’m pretty good at deciphering the deep stuff, but this was just not resonating with me. I secretly looked at it some days, and just went “…What?”
It wasn’t until this year, when we were back in the same position as roommates, but in a new location, that my eyes finally opened to what exactly this meant. All of a sudden, it just clicked. Or should I say, it flickered.
A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle.
When you choose to be that light for someone else, you lose absolutely nothing. When you pass on whatever it is you have to offer—knowledge, cheer, positivity, kindness, wisdom—you are only lighting up another life. You do not become weaker. You do not become more fragile, or burn out any quicker, or any slower. You add, and the room becomes brighter. There is more light.
You lose nothing by being a lighthouse. By guiding people back to shore. By being a glimpse of hope in darkness. By putting life into them. By saving theirs.
Easy, easy. I’m no life saver.
I didn’t save a life, or the day.
But all I’m saying is that maybe, one day you will.
One day, you can.
Just by being a light to others.