Two years ago, I spoke to a group – of women mainly – as we celebrated International Womens Day “on the frontier” – in a remote East Arnhemland mining town recently devastated by the curtailment of the refinery operations here – and reeling in the uncertainty of “what next?” for us, our kids, our “menfolk”, our town … as we faced up to the tangled mess of redundancy, relocation, entitlements … and a sense of a future dissolving …
Yesterday, I hosted a candle party – had a mob of wild women in my lounge room, laughing and gossiping , slurping gin or sipping bubbly, remembering and planning ahead … it made me think ..! Every single one of us had been here before the curtailment … and we’re keeping on …
Today, with the great ghost of that refinery sitting eerily silent on the topmost tip of the country, sleeping and still – not a flicker – I revisited the text of that ‘two years ago” speech as we move forward – hearty but hesitant, tentatively positive about our future – and publish some excerpts here …
It seems I’ve lit a lot of candles lately! Perhaps its been the same at your place. I’ve lit candles not just for people I have loved and lost and miss, but also for friends who are grieving or struggling or only just coping with change. I’ve lit candles for people I barely know. I’ve lit candles lately for the motherless, the fatherless, the loverless, but mostly, for the rudderless – those who struggle to find direction when the tide turns and certainty evaporates. I guess that means that I have lit candles for all of us, and yes, one or two just for me…
So perhaps already the candle offers us a message as our community comes to terms with things and seeks to commemorate countless aspects of a significant time. Candles evolved in direct response to the challenges thrown at them – and so do we. Our evolution has taken eons, ages. Direct threats that signal the end of the road – like the light bulb surely was to the candle – can also become mere diversions in the journey for us – bumps in the road – as we simply endure, and like the candle, provide light, comfort and soothing as we go. Indeed, uncertainty is where opportunity lives – the candle found it and so can we. Obsolete will never be a word in our dictionary! And perhaps that matters right now.
Captured light in form of candles has marked milestones and candles have served to illuminate human celebration, signal commiseration and ensure commemoration for millennia. I have lit countless candles on countless birthday cakes, and blown out more than I care to count, observed the illuminations ceremony at our local Relay for Life, and cried at its power, lit overpriced tealights in crumbling European churches in front of statues because they seemed to need cheering up, stood before eternal flames at tombs of unknown soldiers, even held onto baptism candles, not because I believed the words but because I loved the children and understood the sentiment, and I have been to the odd candle party . And this past seven months, I have lit a candle and even left my loungeroom blind open all night, in case that captured light might be glimpsed by someone who needed to see its message.
I think there has always been a sense that – in the long run – we would have to be resilient and innovative and adaptable – like the candle – roll with the market, find new ways, overcome the threat – and that we each held our own future in our own hands and our own hearts. The candle did not diminish with the invention of the light bulb! Instead, it grew, evolved and thrived. Aside from the obvious legislated support, I see no hero on a white steed waiting in the wings to come to any one’s rescue, really. Salvation, it seems, really does lie within. And perhaps we have to do our own commemorating, find new and better ways to say good bye and keep in touch.
There are some who may consider that the light from another’s candle must be extinguished before theirs can shine brightly – and the humble candle proves absolutely that this is not true. Each one burns to the same brightness no matter how many surround it. Each flame seems to respect the strength of the other – its presence, its power, its decisions to move this way or that – and leaves it to get on with its business, sharing the air and illuminating the space together. Equal. Complementary. There is something to learn here.
It is said :
Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened.
So, so simple! See? You can light a candle, and then use it to light another and another and another and another – tens, hundreds, thousands – and there is no consequence to the original candle!
In a community that is contracting and coming to terms, this idea seems to carry some weight. There are chances – many chances – to spread light and warmth and hope – and it is harmless – completely harmless and inconsequential to the spreader!
Says Arlo Guthrie, son of Woody, in his fabulously titled work, My OUGHTA – Biography:
“You can’t have a light without a dark to stick it in.”
Too true – the darker the night, the brighter the light – I’m holding on to that at every farewell function, at every closing down milestone, at every new red tag I spot on a breezeway door.
Wander by any evening – there’ll be a candle burning in my lounge room window, should you need to glimpse some light. Let’s aim for safe harbor with pilot lights aplenty, wherever we pull up.
We’ll be right, Nhulunbuy!