Burning Bright


Sometimes a friend comes to me feeling low because his book hasn’t sold, or his cat ran away, or his wife wants a divorce. No matter how many tears he’s shedding or how loudly he moans about his dark and joyless future, I still see before me the same person who the day before was filled with plans and jokes and stories. Looking at my friend, this unsold book or missing cat or divorcing wife feels no more permanent a change than a bad haircut. He’s still exactly who he’s always been, and I still love him, and I am certain that beneath all the worry he still loves himself as well.

Still, all my friends have their doubts. Even when a friend is sharing his plans and jokes and stories, doubt wafts through him the way a breeze ruffles the steady light of a bright candle. This doubt has no name. It can’t have a name because it must be capable of questioning everything’s value. Mostly we ignore the doubt in each other, and the breeze passes, and the light is steady again.

But when a friend comes to me full of his worries he’s done ignoring that doubt. Something seems to have snuffed out his candle and all his days will be dark until he lights it again. He doesn’t know how to light it, or if he should bother lighting it, or if it was ever lit in the first place. If I’m wise, I say, “I don’t know what you mean. I can see that candle burning quite clearly at this very moment.” He wants to believe me, though he doesn’t yet believe me, so I keep talking.

I talk about the light as if it’s all I have ever seen. I describe that light the way I would a scene in a story, a scene that exists only in my mind but which I must see as clearly and make as real as the world outside my window. There is no room for doubt in writing or in friendship. I cannot both doubt the value of a story and see the value of a story. I must choose what I want to see. This is why I value my friends in both their happiness and their despair. Sometimes a friend’s fear of darkness is all the motivation I need to see our candle burning clearly again.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual coaching and group workshops.