My therapist loves lighthouses. He has told me this often during our sessions. “Lighthouses,” he will say, pointing to a contrived landscape on the wall over my head that features a lighthouse shining on a calm sea, “are great because they give us an indication as to where things are. They shed a light on where we are, where we’re trying to go, and, perhaps, where we’ve been.”

Apparently, memories can be lighthouses. I say apparently, because I never thought of my memories as beacons of light. Although, within the context of a lighthouse, the beacon of light is acting more like a homing device, radar, a route penned onto a map, rather than any sign of cliché hope.

This is where Dawn chimes in saying that hope isn’t cliché, that it’s important, that it’s a defining part of who we are in our faith. I know all of that. Doesn’t stop hope from being cliché. Sometimes.

Weak metaphors and encouraging phrases make me angry, annoyed, and feeling worse about myself than the original intent of the phrase, usually. (Something that my roommate and I have in common.) But this lighthouse analogy? This is one that I can get behind.

I’m still trying to figure out where certain things that I think came from, where they started, why I believe them at my core. My memories tend to work against me. I remember the bad things: embarrassment, shame, anger, frustration. I remember those in good detail, but my happy memories? Those are more like mirages, or things that I experienced looking through a tinted pane of glass: I can’t remember them as clearly. But that doesn’t matter so much. No matter the nature of my memory, it can still shed light on what I’m going through. My memories act like lighthouses. They show me where I’ve been, what I’m trying to avoid, and provide directions for where I want to go.

The trick is to recognize a given memory as a lighthouse.

How is the memory about you making a fool of yourself in sixth grade because you didn’t hear the recess bell a lighthouse? How is that memory about the fight with your father going to help you? What does that observation of the expectations placed on you that you had when you were five years old have to do with your anxiety now?

Thankfully, my training as a historian helps. Because, you see, everything is connected. Every little nuance in a person’s life, culture, surroundings, contributes to who they are and the decisions they make. It’s digging through the past that we are able to understand the snapshot of the present, and maybe even get a feel for the future, too.

Will I ever find the harbor that I want? I have no idea. For now, I’m just looking for lighthouses to help me find my way back.

-Wilber

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