Not a harbor

Annisquam Lighthouse, Cape Ann, Gloucester, Massachusetts, September  2012

Annisquam Lighthouse, Cape Ann, Gloucester, Massachusetts, September 2012

“The past is a lighthouse, not a harbor.” — origin unknown

Change can be difficult even for those of us who crave novelty.  It’s especially frightening when we are brought face-to-face with our own mortality, or that of someone we love.  If we have been blessed with happy memories to treasure, letting go can be almost unbearable to contemplate.

When unwanted change or loss is forced upon us, it helps if we take solace in our gratitude for what we’ve had in the past, and allow that foundation to give us strength to face whatever the future brings.  The blessings of our life are a bright light shining to guide the uncertain way ahead and bathing us in glowing warmth.

On the other hand, if we have predominantly unhappy memories, it is all too tempting to withdraw into our pain and resentment.  We may use our anguish as an excuse to harbor ourselves from further sorrow.  Again, the lighthouse is a helpful metaphor.  So many — maybe even most — of the great works of art and literature, as well as other forms of human progress, have come directly in response to suffering.  Grief can be a helpful teacher no matter how unwanted the lessons.

When I look back on the painful aspects of my past, I know that I have learned at least as much from my difficulties as I have from my accomplishments and joys.  The full spectrum of past experiences, from horrible to heavenly, have something helpful to contribute to my future.  It may take years to fully realize the depth of life’s blessings, or to appreciate the wisdom that has come from sadness.  But the lighthouse remains, beaming across the distance, even when the waves are too rough to allow me an uninterrupted view of its illumination.


  1. Beautiful words.

    Sent from my iPhone

    • Thank you, Karen! It is always nice to hear from you.

  2. Thank You, BeLOVE Julia, today once again i give thanks for your saying Yes! to God to share here. Blessing upon blessing. You are kindered spirit. The lighthouse has often been my metaphor for my relationship with my BeLOVE Abba. When i had a home, i collected any & all things with a lighthouse symbol. Where ever i went in my home it reminded me that when the fog obscures the Light the Light was there,a never failing Light, and that Light would bring me into a safe harbor. These ‘things’ are nolonger in my possession; yet, i am today and always guided to a safe harbor. The Light never fails. i give thanks for you Shining you Light in gratitude. i am encouraged. Blessings upon you & yours this Day of the Lord.

    • Thanks Kate, for your kind words. There is a very old hymn I really love that I never hear anymore, Lead Kindly Light by John Henry Newman. The words are posted here. It supposedly was written at sea after he was ill, and is said to be one of the songs sung on the Titanic. Your comment reminded me of this lovely song. Hope you have a wonderful day.

  3. Beautiful post Julia ~ I couldn’t have explained it better! Just lovely xo

    • Thanks so much. Usually when I write the words just kind of flow and I have to go back and re-read to see if they make any sense; sometimes I’m still not sure 🙂 and this was one of those times, so I appreciate your comment!

      • When that happens to me, I know that I’m being divinely guided. 🙂

        • That’s a lovely thought. At times I feel that way, but most of the time I can’t see myself as being fit for anything of that sort; in fact, sometimes it seems I’m battling inner “demons” (speaking symbolically) with the only weapon I have, a pen. I guess that is one form of divine help, now that I think of it. And of course, just the physical ability to put pen to paper is a gift from God, who can sort it all out even when we can’t. Thanks for your encouraging comment!

  4. Sheila

    Julia, your words flowed so beautiful right into my heart and soul. You have become a lighthouse to so many, as comfort and thought (and yes, smiles) await us here everyday through your beautiful words and photographs. Defeat Despair is a blessing, as are you.

    • Sheila, thanks so much. I could take a few hours to go into why that comment means so much to me, but I will refrain 🙂 and just say I really appreciate it!

      • Sheila

        Julia, knowing that chemo days are stressful and tiring for all, I can only say that I’m thinking of you and of Jeff and hope you have a good evening. Sheila

        • Thanks Sheila, we did have a nice evening. Jeff was able to rest for awhile after getting home and then our nephew came for dinner; he was in Baltimore for work and drove down to be with us awhile. We had a very nice visit with him. Jeff has his next MRI on Thursday, please pray for us! I am hoping and praying for good news but it’s hard not to be nervous. It will be awhile before we know the results, of course. Thanks for being here!

  5. gloriafarmstrong48

    I don’t think I’ve ever heard that quote, but I like it and will use it with my patients. I often tell them the past is to be used like the rear view mirror in the car. We glance in it to see if we need to make any corrections, but we can only drive forward by looking through the windowshied. Otherwise, we will certainly crash.

    • Gloria, I had never heard that quote before either, and looked hard for it before giving up. It was listed as “author unknown” in the source where I found it. I really like your analogy even better. Glance back as needed to orient yourself and find out where the strange noises, smells or flashing lights are coming from, but DON’T take your eyes off the road too long. I’ll remember that one!

  6. Ellis Anderson

    so lovely and evocative. Perfect lesson for me today!! Thank you! I’m sending big hugs.

    • Thanks Ellis, it is always a joy to see you here! Hugs right back to you!

  7. Carlyle

    Having read the comments by many of your on-line friends, I can only echo their appreciation for your facility to express varied thoughts beautifully. I say this as a “literary critic” (self described) As your father, I hope you understand that I treasure your thoughts on an entirely different level. I love you and laud your courage.

    • Thanks Daddy, we never outgrow the need to have our parents be proud of us :-). I am so happy to have you reading my blog.

  8. merry

    Beautiful picture and reassuring words. Thanks, Julia.

    • Thank you so much, I am happy you liked it!

  9. My dear, you are a wonderful writer. Knowing your story makes your words even more poignant. It’s hard to imagine how I would be as poised, grateful and full of hope in your situation. I’m in awe of your strength. xK

    • Congratulations Boomdee, you are my 2000th comment! I really do appreciate your visits to this blog and your words of encouragement. Please be aware, I am not always grateful and full of hope (and hardly ever poised) but one thing I love about writing is that I find it easier to consider carefully what I say. Whatever strength I may be able to muster has come from watching the amazing example of so many other people who have been teaching me my whole life just by living in courageous ways. One of my favorite poems is “For Strong Women” by Marge Piercy. I love the line “Strength is not in her but she enacts it as the wind fills a sail.” That’s exactly how it feels right now. I have no strength within me but my sails are filled by the loving concern, thoughts and prayers of so many people. Thanks for being one of them!

      • That’s a wonderful milestone to celebrate Julia, I’m so glad I could be part of it. I’ll look up Marge Piercy’s poem and think of you when I read it. hugs K

  10. Time is such a great teacher though her methods may seem hostile. At last we come out stronger. We frequently talk about the incidents that ‘touched’ us. Just wondering – were they the ones that made us happy? Or sad? Angry? Upset? It’s a mixed bag. Feels like writing something on the topic. Thanks for the inspiration.:)

    • Bindu, I hope you do write about this! I really enjoy reading your blog. Life is indeed a mixed bag, and looking back we can often see where we do come out stronger after adversity. Although that doesn’t always make it easier to bear whatever we are currently facing, at least it give us some perspective. Thanks for being here!

  11. J.D Maloy

    A fantastic reminder that we need to shine our light daily. I just want to sit on those rocks and stare at the ocean for hours. Sigh. I checked out the book The Midnight Disease you told me about and it looks very interesting indeed! I never even thought about that before. Wow. And calling me Jenelle is just fine 🙂

    • Thanks Jenelle, after I responded a couple of times with your name, I realized you didn’t use your first name on your sign-in and I was afraid you would rather keep it private. I hope you enjoy The Midnight Disease; I thought it was fascinating and I found a lot there that I could identify with personally. Most people I know seem to have a hard time producing words. My problem is keeping them reasonably minimal, whether talking or writing! I could go on (needless to say) but I’ll close by agreeing that sitting on the shore and watching the ocean is one of the most soothing experiences I know of. Thanks for being here!

      • singleseatfighterpilot

        After a year, I comment as a ‘second father’ (not self-described): I am proud of you. That which has inspired artful expression over the years is thought of as a lighthouse. I understand the ‘harbor’ of anguish, protecting from further sorrow. Please elaborate on the shining light of past pain; guiding, even when its illumination is hidden by the waves of present distress?

        • There’s a lot I could say about that; specific stories to tell, general observations that sound a lot like platitudes, other things that I couldn’t fully describe except to those who have been in similar situations. Suffice it to say that most of it is summed up nicely in the beatitudes, and in Matthew 11:28-30, a passage that has come to feel like some sort of pillar in my life.

      • singleseatfighterpilot

        Thank you for the explanation.


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