It’s my job to shine through darkness and storms, lighting the way for weary travelers. My light is to penetrate the darkness, fog, and elements so whoever passes by can find safety, warmth, and respite. Over the years I have helped many people safely find shelter. One story particularly stands out. It happened seventy years ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday.
The winter of ’46 was cold and bitter with it snowing almost every day. I’d just turned sixteen and thought that I knew it all. That winter, by February 14th, there had been ten severe blizzards. I was cold, tired, and irritable; my wires were feeling frosty and a bit rusty. The only thing I wanted at that moment was to rest my light. The inn keeper, who finished replacing another blown bulb, had his finger on the switch ready to flip it, when I decided that I was going to get my well-deserved and needed rest. As he flipped the switch, being an obstinate, rebellious, young thing, I focused all my energy in one place and purposefully blew a fuse.
Picture the scene, winds blowing about 50 miles per hour, tree branches breaking, the snow lashing at anything in its path—total whiteout conditions. The persistent inn keeper, bitterly cold and unable to see a thing, kept looking for the solution to my lighting problem. He replaced the fuse and flipped the switch. Again I focused all my energy, this time not only blowing another fuse, but also the new bulb. My inability to light greatly concerned the inn keeper. I heard him and his wife discussing the issue trying to figure out what the problem could possibly be. Had he accidentally used the wrong bulb? Nope that wasn’t it. He even tore me apart looking for electrical or wiring issues but found me in tip-top shape. He put me back together and sighed.
“Anna, this will be the first time in my sixty years as inn keeper that we won’t have a light shining. This greatly concerns me since we are in the midst of the worst storm in my history as inn keeper. I hate to think of the poor travelers out in this weather who may lose their way and need shelter. I should never have switched from gas to electric. I feel responsible but I don’t know what else to do.”
The old inn keeper’s wife took his hands, looked deep into his worried eyes and tried to sooth his fears. “You’ve done all that you could do, Christoph. It’s the lamp. The factory must have sold you a defective one. After this storm we’ll have to take it down and ask for a replacement. We’ll put gas lanterns in the windows. Maybe they will be light enough for tonight.”
“I guess that’s all we can do…” the inn keeper sighed, as he and his wife turned groping through the storm trying to safely find their way indoors.
You’d think that after hearing that conversation I would have felt guilty but instead I felt rather smug and proud of myself. Yes! My plan is working and I’ll get my well-earned rest. The gas lanterns in the windows can take my place and everything should turn out fine. Knowing the inn keeper, he’ll try to light me once more tomorrow. I’ll light up then. Everything will work according to my plan and I’ll get to stay at the inn. I snuggled down falling asleep as the storm raged around me.
Bump! Something falling against me roused me out of my slumber. I tried to peer through the storm to see what it was. The storm and lack of light made it impossible for me to see. Lack of light? I looked around me trying to see the gas lantern light. Darkness enveloped the house. Why aren’t the lanterns shining? I felt panicky. What happened to the gas lanterns? What or who fell against me? Does someone need shelter? I tried to light my bulb with my own power. Maybe I could again light the way. But without a power source I was useless.
“Grandma! Where are you? Are you okay? Why didn’t you stay back at the car?” a youthful voice called from the midst of the storm.
“I’m here next to some metal post. I just stumbled and fell. I couldn’t stay alone in that car in this storm. Oh, my foot! I think I broke it. What a pickle my stubbornness placed us in!”
Stubbornness? I thought for a bit. She’s not the only one who permitted stubbornness to get him into a mess, but I’m worse. I’m stubborn, selfish, and egocentric. I tried again to light the way but of course my light wouldn’t cooperate. Full of remorse and feeling responsible for the grandmother and her grandchild, I berated myself and my stubborn selfishness.
I felt another but gentler bump as the grandchild found his grandmother and my post. The grandson and his grandmother discussed their options. I heard bits of conversation as their soft murmurs drifted up to me. With wind and snow blowing too hard for them to see, they knew they’d be unable to go to their car because of losing their way. They discussed the possibility of nearby shelter. Their whispered voices stopped as they each pondered what to do. Oh, this blasted storm and my youthful folly! If only the inn keeper would flip the switch one more time.
“Son, I’m so cold. I can’t just lay here or we’ll both freeze to death. We must move on.”
“Which way do we go, Grandma? This storm has me so mixed up. I heard that there is an inn out this way but I don’t know if we are close. I can’t see anything!”
“Let’s go that way. It looks like a hill, and inns are often built on hills, right?”
Oh, no! They were heading in the opposite direction towards the forest. If they kept going that direction they would get lost and freeze to death. The inn was only a few yards away from me. Oh, what have I done? I’m going to be responsible for the death of two people. I tried again to light myself. I focused hard on my wires and my bulb. I put all my energy into trying to self light but to no avail. I needed a power source. How foolish I had been.
As I wept and repented of my folly I felt power surge through me. I lit up! The inn keeper, unable to sleep, decided to try the switch one last time. The grandson happened to look back at that exact moment and see the light. Realizing that he and his grandmother had been heading in the wrong direction, he called out to her. They turned around and found their way to the door.
That, my friend, is why I still burn brightly day and night as old as I am. The inn keeper’s grandson is now in charge; soon, like the inn keeper, I’ll retire. This is my last winter lighting the way.