January 24, 2000

Flicker of Hope

My friend, Pat, is civic minded. Her town had a great idea during its tercentennial celebration several years ago. Every house in town would burn a lighted candle in a front window all day and night during the celebration. Pat liked the idea and she plugged in one of her Christmas candles in the picture window of her living room. She felt part of the celebration.

Time passed, the hoopla of a small town’s celebration died down, and the town moved on to other community issues. Lights were packed away to await the next Christmas season. But the light in Pat’s window remained on.

The light remained in the window for no particular reason other than it seemed like the right thing to do. It was a handy landmark for giving directions to her house. Pat is always giving out directions to strangers. She is known in the area as the woman who rehabilitates injured birds and people call frequently with injured owls, hawks and other birds of prey. She tells them to look for the light in the window.

One day, while dropping off an injured bird, a woman asked, “What is the light in the window for?” Pat had no ready explanation, but being quick on her feet, replied, “Oh, that’s a flicker of hope for the birds.”

The light, with its small incandescent bulb, shines brightly in Pat’s neighborhood. Across the street is an older couple who have had more than their share of illnesses and surgeries over the last few years. Pat and her husband have helped out in small ways when needed. The woman told Pat, “When my husband and I are in pain and just cannot sleep, we look out across the street and see your light. We know that you are always there if we need you. That means so much to us.”

Light bulbs do wear out. Sometimes in the middle of the night Pat awakes with the sense that the light has gone out. And perhaps this is the night that her neighbors need to see the light the most. Invariably her sense is right when she checks the light. A quick replacement is substituted from the important reserve supply.

Recently Pat has had her own medical problems. And she noticed that her neighbor across the street had left one candle burning in the window after the Christmas holidays had passed. She called her neighbor and said, “I see that you have a light burning in the front window.” “Keep smiling, Pat,” the woman said. Their roles had reversed. The light gone out from one house had reflected back. The flicker of hope had returned.

Hope keeps us going. The Czech leader Vaclav Havel said, “Hope is not a prognostication. It is an orientation of the spirit … it transcends the world that is immediately experienced, and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons.” We could argue forever about the ultimate source, the anchor, but it is clear that we each can be an anchor by orienting our spirit. And the orientation may be not toward anyone or anything but merely out. The recipients, those we somehow touch, will show up. One small flicker of hope will reach another and another and another. My light goes on today.

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