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Loss of a light doesn’t mean darkness
The poem says the Buddha said
Make of yourself a light.
That is all. I am relieved
of the need to be Good,
to be Wise, to be Other.
All I need do is walk ahead
so my children can see
into the dark.
– Hannah Wilson
A poster bearing this poem has resided on the wall of my legal assistant’s office for nearly 14 years. Every time I step into Daniel’s office, which I do about half a dozen times a day, I see the poster and I read the poem, and every time I have the same reaction: I smile, and I feel better, even though I can never seem to put my finger on exactly what it is I feel better about. I didn’t know Hannah Wilson the poet, but my assistant knew her well – she was his mother. And based on all available evidence, Hannah Wilson did a pretty good job of making of herself a light for her children.
Like all parents, Wendy and I worry about whether or not we’ve done as good a job raising our children as we would have liked. Adam and Lauren are both great kids and we’re very proud of them, but I can‘t help wonder if we might have done a better job of raising them.
For example, perhaps they would both be better at cleaning their rooms without being asked if we’d played Beethoven to them in the womb instead of Mozart. And maybe they’d have learned to wash and put away their own dishes rather than just leave them in the sink or on the kitchen counter if we’d let them call us by our first names and eat more McDonald’s hamburgers. Or fewer.
In the end, I don’t think we parents can ever really know for sure just how much influence we’ve exerted over our children. They may embrace the values we embrace and avoid the mistakes we’ve made, or they may run screaming in exactly the opposite direction. It’s possible that everything we’ve done in trying to raise our kids has been relatively meaningless, and the real influences in their lives are their genetic makeup, or the schools they attended, or the friends they hung around with, or the movies they saw and the video games they played and the type of cell phones they carried. Maybe we’d have better spent our time sending them thousands of subliminal messages through their Facebook sites.
I was standing in my office the other day thinking about Hannah Wilson’s poem and the idea of being a light rather than a hammer or a traffic cop to your children and how comforting that thought was and how funny and predictable and joyful and tragic and beautiful and holy and unfair life can be when I learned that John Crane had died.
You may not have known John Crane, and although I cannot claim that John and I were close friends, I knew him well enough and for a long enough time to know that he was bright, funny, kind, brave, honest, competent, charitable, forgiving and just basically an all-around good and decent man. His passing is a loss not only for his family and friends, but for our entire community. In these perilous and uncertain times, we need every good man we can muster.
John Crane’s death is rightfully an occasion for sadness and tears. But the great truth and beauty of Buddha’s statement and Hannah Wilson’s poem is that when someone has made of themselves a light, that light is not diminished by the person’s passing. The light John made of himself will continue to shine on in the hearts and memories of his family and friends and loved ones forever, and it will continue to light the way for his children.
While John may be gone in the sense that none of us will ever see him boarding the 6:20 boat or sitting in church with his wife, Jane, again, he’s not really gone as long as the light he made of himself still shines. I like to think that John, like all other good men and women who have gone before him, is still out there, walking a bit ahead of us down that endless and mysterious road, waiting patiently for the rest of us to catch up, and if we all just look hard enough, their collective light will help us all see into the darkness.
Islander Tom Tyner is an attorney
for the Trust for Public Land. He is author
of “Skeletons From Our Closet,”
a collection of writings on the island’s latte scene.