777: The Lightkeeper

777: The Lightkeeper

777: The Lightkeeper


I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.

I often think about the people in my life who have taught me not just certain habits or ways to do a certain thing, but how to actually live. I am thinking now of my friend Kristin who encouraged me to quit my job as Creative Services Director for Travel and Leisure and modeled a creative life on the edges. She teaches me freedom and how to hold on to it. And I think of my friend T who, if I am anxious or too serious about my obligations, is always determined to make me celebrate. She won’t let me take joy for granted. Even if sometimes I start going, “Okay this happened, let’s start planning”...she will text me in all caps, “BUT THIS IS SO EXCITING,” She won’t let me forgo my joy even when I’m trying to worry myself into a lather about this or that.

Those people, those people who can remind you of how to face the world, live in the world, are so important. Each time, I stop and cook a meal, even a simple one, if I really enjoy it, by turning on the music, and dancing in the kitchen, making it fun, making it feel like the end of one part of the day and the beginning of another part of the day, I feel as if my mother and my stepmom are with me. My grandparents too. It isn’t always the big lessons that stick with me, but a way of being. I want to be someone that savors this life, and I’ve been encouraged all my life by my best ones to do just that.

Today’s poem honors someone and the lesson they offered. I love how this poem feels like a way of thanking the person, but also of thanking the light itself.

The Lightkeeper
by Carolyn Forché

A night without ships. Foghorns calling into walled cloud, and you
still alive, drawn to the light as if it were a fire kept by monks,
darkness once crusted with stars, but now death-dark as you sail inward.
Through wild gorse and sea wrack, through heather and torn wool
you ran, pulling me by the hand, so I might see this for once in my life:
the spin and spin of light, the whirring of it, light in search of the lost,
there since the era of fire, era of candles and hollow wick lamps,
whale oil and solid wick, colza and lard, kerosene and carbide, 
the signal fires lighted on this perilous coast in the Tower of Hook.
You say to me, Stay awake, be like the lens maker who died with his
lungs full of glass, be the yew in blossom when bees swarm, be
their amber cathedral and even the ghosts of Cistercians will be kind
       to you. 
In a certain light as after rain, in pearled clouds or the water beyond,
seen or sensed water, sea or lake, you would stop still and gaze out
for a long time. Also, when fireflies opened and closed in the pines,
and a star appeared, our only heaven. You taught me to live like this.
That after death it would be as it was before we were born. Nothing
to be afraid. Nothing but happiness as unbearable as the dread
from which it comes. Go toward the light always, be without ships.

"The Lightkeeper" by Carolyn Forché from IN THE LATENESS OF THE WORLD copyright © 2020 Carolyn Forché. Used by permission of Penguin Random House.