Recently my son got a birthday card showing a car tumbling off a cliff. The caption reads: “But it can’t be wrong. It’s guided by satellites.” More than once my husband has yelled “Throw it out the window!” after following our GPS Shirley’s directions to oblivion, despite his better judgement. (Shirley is no longer with us.) I can only imagine how much worse it would be bobbing about in inky darkness in a small boat. Come to think of it, the bigger the ship, the worse the situation. And we all know that accidents still happen, despite all the electronic navigation aids ships use today.
Don’t we all need a lighthouse of sorts? Some big, dependable, candy-coloured authority figure to beam hope through our gloom, if not carry us out of the burning building? Since Nelson Mandela’s been in hospital people have been wondering aloud what’s to become of our rainbow when he’s gone. Well he’s not gone. And what he’s given us is more than a rainbow – it’s a beacon, a lighthouse that even when unmanned must continue its work 24/7, diligently maintained and upgraded by the rest of us. We’re not all bad, despite our squabbles and mistakes and greed. I’ve got to believe the backroom boys are still doing the best they can, even when management messes up.
In the aftermath of the Connecticut school shooting, people have been sharing upbeat pictures on Facebook to communicate positive messages about humankind. We need reminding of the unconditional love and goodness that’s out there, otherwise we’ll stop maintaining the lifeboats – and then what?
When the unthinkable happens it doesn’t help much to be reminded that good stuff happens too. Sometimes it takes a mighty powerful lighthouse to guide us home and even then, not everyone makes landfall. All the rest of us can do is keep those lighthouses painted and their great prisms turning. Just in case.
Two of my favourite lighthouse photos, chosen at random from a selection that my brother took during his years at sea, just happen to be of the same lighthouse on Bird Island in Mandela Bay, and were taken on his last trip. I chose them without knowing this – in fact, without even realising that they were of the same lighthouse. The significance is this: his first-ever memory of going to sea was as a very small boy on the harbour tug John Dock out of Port Elizabeth to Bird Island. Our father was the chief engineer – the crew referred to my brother as “little chief” on that trip. Years later when he joined the harbour service in Durban he was eventually sent to the tug John Dock as chief engineer. He dug out the old log books from 1948/9 and found our father’s signature on the daily logs. Don’t you agree that truth is always stranger than fiction?