Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Jacob's Lighthouse

She wasn't entirely certain, at first, if this was Jacob's lighthouse, but she was willing to wager it might be.

It seemed to her, that from a distance, all lighthouses looked pretty much alike. They were like golden retrievers. From a few yards, they all looked silken and gilded and similar. Up close, they had unique noses, and some even smiled. Lighthouses didn't ever smile, of course, but they all stood straight and tall and were white, and only sometimes red.

Jacob's lighthouse was on the end of a fairly short pier that struck out at a regular angle into Lake Michigan, or more specifically, into the bay at St. Joseph's. Benton Harbor was the town on the other side.

She had visited once or twice before, on summer days. She remembered spending half a day or so there, when all of the children still lived at home. There were only six then. It might have been the summer she was expecting number seven. Maybe that was why the walk out on the pier seemed exceedingly dangerous. It was windy, and the cement was slick, having been washed clean by waves that morning. Authorities had opened the pier and assured visitors it was safe to venture out. But she had held Luke, the littlest, extra tight, and scolded the bigger boys when they went too close to the edge. Aaron had gone ahead, as he always did, reaching the lighthouse long before she felt safe. It was a role he had always taken in their marriage, and she tensed in the remembering, then relaxed, recalling that they had remained, through grace, safe.

She remembered that later, they had taken photographs on the nearby beach. It was a cloudy day, and the children's tan faces were golden against the gray. She wanted to capture the moment, in its imperfection and beauty, and keep it forever. It felt fragile and temporary. So unlike the lighthouse that Jacob, her great, great-grandfather, had maintained decades before.

Now she saw the lighthouse again. Not just in a new light, but in a new season. It was winter. It wasn't just, however, any winter. It was the coldest, bitterest winter that had touched the Midwest in years. This day a record was set. Forecasters predicted that the temperature in some areas might only rise to zero. The lighthouse wasn't merely snow-covered. It was encapsulated in ice. Crystals reached out, building one upon the next, forming icy tendrils that connected to the pier below. It was terrifying. And breathtakingly beautiful.

She had never seen it quite this way, and it moved her deeply.

Now, in this season, on the bitterest of days, a part of her past reached out to her and touched her unexpectedly. She had never met Jacob, and could only wonder at what his life had been like. She had gone to the lighthouse on that summer day because that is what people do: they seek landmarks and legacies, and they try to leave them.

She was creating her own that summer day. Even though the child she carried beneath her heart wouldn’t live for more than a few months, she too would leave a unique mark; a sign; a signal; a light as bold as any ever emitted from any beacon in any port, in any season.

She smiled and touched the computer screen. The image of Jacob's lighthouse had been captured by a photographer she'd likely never meet. It was posted online by a friend that chance had brought to her, a friend she had never embraced in person but a friend, a light, nonetheless.

Jacob's lighthouse stood frozen, elegant and beautiful, cold and far away, yet close. She would return there someday, and walk out on the pier, unafraid.

Today, she took the first step.

See the photos of Jacob's lighthouse here.

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