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.

This post was originally published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.


  1. Judy from Pennsylvania

    Hi Julia,

    I continue to be amazed at the blog entries you’ve composed, all of them combining beautiful photographs with words of deep wisdom. Usually I visit your site here just every few days and then I catch up with reading them, often more than once just to soak up all that each one contains. Thank you for continuing to post these treasures from you files.

    I hope you and Matt are doing well despite the unprecedented upheavals in your life and the lives of all of us. As I recall what my parents and grandparents said about the shocks of The Great Depression and the then Pearl Harbor and WWII, this seems at least equal to that but it has hit all at once. Your first two paragraphs today seem uncannily relevant.

    To me, the lighthouse is a symbol of my faith in God.

    Have a blessed day, and may we all find joy in even the smallest of our many blessings.

    • Hi Judy, sorry I’m late getting to this comment. It somehow ended up in the spam comments; I have no idea how or why it got there. Just when I’m sick of scanning through the spam comments with all sorts of ads for bogus and/or obscene “products” instead of just bulk deleting all the spam, I find the odd comment from a genuine reader who somehow ended up in spam.

      Thanks for your kind words about the blog. I saw where someone had written that this is like the Great Depression and The Spanish Flu combined into one terrible storm. We’ll keep hanging in there and pray that it passes soon. Incidentally, on the video you linked, I recognized some of the lighthouses (including Pigeon Point, a photo of which I’ve posted here) and in a minute or two, I recognized that the song, which I’d never heard before, is a version of a tune that I used to hear Jeff singing to himself. ❤ Thanks for being here with us!

  2. Good morning, Julia!
    Wow, what a great metaphor! I had not thought of my past as a lighthouse, but I can see now that it is, as it provides both illumination to look forward, and also a solid foundation, from which I have pushed off.
    While some people may not have had quite as firm a foundation from the start (or could have had a solidly negative start), it is easier to launch one’s self into life from solidity than from chaos or stagnation, and the water is more fresh and alive out in the open sea.

    • Yes, foundations are so important. And I think most of us, despite whatever dysfunction may lie in our past circumstances (and I think almost everyone has at least some) also have many points of stability to guide us. It’s important to focus on what is right about our history and not get mired in what was less than ideal. We can certainly be grateful that illumination comes from both good and bad experiences.

  3. Julia, have you stopped blogging? I hope you are doing well and managing your health during these challenging times. I’m still recovering from major foot surgery, so I’ve moved from six weeks of couch isolation to the “were all in this together” covid isolation. Be well.

    • Hi Alys, how wonderful to see you here! Oh dear, I’m afraid I didn’t know you had surgery (or maybe knew but it got lost in the flood of events). I did know that you had had some problems with that foot. I hope you are feeling much better now. Yes, I made the decision to quit blogging some time ago. My last original post was on November 4 of last year. But my “backlist” was so deep at 1100+, and so many had written me to ask if all was OK, that I decided to re-post the old ones, at least for the time being. I have forgotten most of what I wrote and published, so I figured almost everyone else has too! And of course there are many new readers who were not with us in those early years. At the time I quit, I didn’t know whether it would be a permanent decision, so I didn’t publish any sort of swan song saying “this is my last post.” For now, re-posting seems a good alternative. There is much more I could say on the topic (I can just hear some who know me well saying “When do you NOT have much more to say?” 🙂 ), but that’s another discussion for another time…Thanks so much for checking in! You are precious to me.

Thanks for encouraging others by sharing your thoughts:

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