We looked forward to the trip to Martha's Vineyard for months. We'd picked out the perfect little cottage, and I had visions of biking around the island enjoying the sunshine and gentle ocean breezes as we picnicked on the beach.
The trip started out well. The leaves in New England had begun to turn, so the scenery was beautiful as approached the coast. By the time we reached it, however, the sky had darkened. The ferry ride felt awfully rough to me, but at first I chalked up my queasiness to not being used to the sea. When the mail truck parked a couple of feet away tilted sideways and came dangerously closed to hitting the car, I knew I wasn't imagining the choppiness. The seas had become so rough that ours was last ferry between the island and the mainland for days.
The waves crashed over the seawall and onto the road as we drove to our little cottage. The windows shook as the wind whipped through. We needed food, so we had no choice but to venture out into it again once we dropped off our luggage. As we warmed up with clam chowder and ale in the 1800's pub just a few steps away from the home of the whaling captain who may have inspired Melville's Captain Ahab, it was easy to picture him and his crew sitting there with us waiting out the storm.
The weather stayed blustery and cold for most of our visit. I've always loved photographing lighthouses, and I did not want to leave without at least getting a picture of the most famous lighthouse on Martha's Vineyard, so on the last day we drove across the island and I dashed out to get a quick shot. No one else was around. The sun was finally shining, but the icy wind was so strong that it almost blew me over. I thought, "All I have to do is push this button, and then I can get out of this wind!" Then I thought how hard it must be to be the lighthouse. It had to stand out there all alone being battered by the storm when we could go inland and huddle inside.
If lighthouses could feel, I'm sure they would feel the most successful on the sunny days when crowds come to take their pictures. This one in particular has been in countless publications and has had some of the most powerful people in the world pose in front of it.
Yet they weren't built to be famous or to have their image decorate someone's wall. When the crowds are gone, and the saltwater stings as waves crash over them, and the wind blows so hard they could fall into the sea, those are the moments they are doing their most important work. As long as they stand firm and shine in the darkness, they are doing what they were created to do. Lives are being saved.
It is the same with us. When we stand alone in the storm and everything is coming against us, it can feel like we are failing. However, if during those times we cling to the Rock and faithfully shine our light, we are doing what we were created to do. Our light matters. Someone out there may be depending on it to find their way in the storm.
My father, who had been an officer in the Navy and sailed to many parts of the world before I was born, told me that the lights that shine from the lighthouses are all different, and it is important that they are. As sailors look across the water and see the different lights, it helps them determine where they are. In the same way, our unique lights are important.
Later we stopped in front of a simple little lighthouse in a residential neighborhood. It was very pleasant, but not impressive like the one towering over the cliffs at Aquinnah. We had happened upon it so I took a picture, but I would not have sought it out.
However, on the grounds there was a plaque that said a sea captain had requested a lighthouse be built there. The request for funding was denied because the federal officials didn't see the importance of it. As one who regularly navigated past that point, the captain knew how crucial it was. He raised the funds and built it himself. He stopped sailing and manned that lighthouse to save others. When it burned a couple of years later, he raised more funds and rebuilt it. Years later, officials finally realized the importance of it and appropriated enough funds to hire a keeper, and he was able to return to the sea.
You may not be impressive, but you are important, and you are where you are for a reason. If you persevere through trials, you can be a beacon of hope to others.
Captain Silas Daggett built the original light on this spot and manned it himself when he wasn't able to secure funds from the government.
Reflections and photos
by Karine Oswalt
Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.
Romans 5:3-4 (NIV)