Near the end of last summer something completely unexpected happened.
It went something like this (bear with me): My husband, Dan, and our oldest son, James, went hiking with James’s Boy Scout troop on North Manitou Island, which is in Lake Michigan. It’s an incredibly beautiful area with magnificent views at every turn. The fresh lake air is cleansing and any amount of time spent in that area of Michigan is a treat for the soul. At the end of the trip, our friend Dave, who was also hiking his son, told Dan he’d like to own a lighthouse someday. Dan agreed.
Within a few days, Dan received a text message from our friend Jake sharing a link to a story about a government auction for an offshore lighthouse – southeast of North Manitou Island.
Within 24 hours, Dan received another text message from another friend, Todd, sharing the same article.
It was funny. Four men, suspiciously close to the time when one might experience a “mid-life crisis”, sending text messages about a lighthouse up for auction and alluding to the possibility that they might place a collective bid on the lighthouse with hopes of winning it. I didn’t think they were serious.
To be eligible to bid, the group needed to form a non-profit organization and on August 16, 2016 the North Manitou Light Keepers was born. A bidding war ensued. After every bid the auction allowed for 24 hours to pass before a winner was determined. I watched in dismay, wondering how on earth my already overextended husband could possibly have space in his life for a lighthouse. At my lowest moment, I was sure my marriage was over.
The price grew higher than anyone imagined and text messages were flying. It was intense. Before long, I reluctantly joined the four as member of the Board. What started as a fun, light-hearted adventure began to feel heavy and honestly, it was just too much. We decided to stop bidding.
For the first time in weeks, I received no text messages about this lighthouse. I began to wonder if the auction had closed and whether our competitor had won. I decided to try to find the auction website, just to make sure. And there it was. I found the site and laid eyes on The North Manitou Shoal Light for the first time and as crazy as it sounds I heard a voice say, “Don’t give up.”
I texted Dan. We placed one last bid. 24 hours later, we won the auction.
Since the auction, North Manitou Light Keepers and the lighthouse we are on a mission to restore has received a lot of our attention. Attention I didn’t think we had. It’s been fun and also stressful to launch this project. The lighthouse was in bad shape and it will require a huge amount of money and time and resources to restore it. But, it is a LIGHTHOUSE.
In a time where the shadow parts seem to be running the show around town, this beacon of light provides a ray of hope.
I’ve been paying closer attention to lighthouses in general. They are usually quite striking structures. And whether they are quaint or stately, what strikes me most is their mission: to be light. Specifically, they exist to light rough passages. I’ve thought about the light keepers who steward these structures through big waves, tremendous winds, and harrowing storms. And the Coast Guard.
The North Manitou Shoal Light was manned by the Coast Guard until the station was automated in 1980 (the actual equipment will continue to be used for navigation and will be maintained by the Coast Guard). I am in awe of the men and women who serve on the Coast Guard working to save lives in terrifying conditions.
While I’ve learned a lot about the structure of the lighthouse and have devoted much time to the organization supporting this endeavor, it is the light that has my attention.
There are undoubtedly too many lighthouse metaphors to count and with good reason. These structures symbolize something we all need and in our own ways hope to embody: a light in the darkness. I wonder what that means for me now–in these times of massive heartache, violence, and strife for so many? When earthquakes, hurricanes, and wildfires are causing unprecedented damage to the land and the people we love.
When my own children seem so vulnerable amid the chaos that surrounds us. When so many I love are hurting. I keep asking myself: how will I be light? How can I sustain light? Because I really want not to dwell in the shadows. By nature, I seek light and I aspire to be light.
Some days I simply cannot muster an answer to this question. It takes all my energy just to keep moving and to keep showing up. I love that Anne Lamott said, “Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.” Could it really be that simple for us too?
Rather than wracking my brain trying to figure out what to do next, would I make a difference by simply be-ing? Can I just stand here shining? I’m sure the answer lies somewhere between being and doing. Both are necessary and even vital on a daily basis. There certainly doesn’t seem to be a right way to be light.
Of all the lighthouses I’ve seen in the past year, I can’t think of any two that are exactly alike. The one thing they have in common is that they shine light in dark places. There are no easy answers, but I am sure about one thing. No matter what kinds of storms you or I face, we can’t give up. We must trust in the light.
About the Author: Anna Oginsky
Anna Oginsky is the founder of Heart Connected, LLC, a small Michigan-based workshop and retreat business that creates opportunities for guests to tune in to their hearts and connect with the truth, wisdom, and power held there. Her work is inspired by connections made between spirituality, creativity, and community. Anna’s first book, My New Friend, Grief, came as a result of years of learning to tune in to her own heart after the sudden loss of her father. In addition to writing, Anna uses healing tools like yoga, meditation, and making art in her offerings and in her own personal practice. She lives in Brighton, Michigan with her husband, their three children, and Johnny, the big yellow dog. Connect with her on her website; Twitter; Facebook; or Instagram.
To learn more about the North Manitou Light Keepers and the restoration of the North Manitou Shoal Light, visit www.northmanitoulightkeepers.org