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Heceta Lighthouse

“People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in their true beauty is revealed only if there is light from within.”  — Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

I’m driving a new “smart car” down highway 101, anxious at the helm of this complex vehicle and traveling alone for the first time in years. My mind keeps returning to the guidance Shiela gave me in our last session:


“Walk along the edge without your cane. You’ll see a flash of light.”  I’m totally willing to try.  “Look out for the lighthouse community.”  Hmmm, okay.  “When the universe is with you, the path becomes simple—just enjoy it! When things become hard, you may be heading in the wrong direction, off the path.”  That’s comforting. 


In a car that is smarter than I am, on a winding road an hour south of Newport on the Oregon coast, I’m headed to one of the most photographed lighthouses in the world.

I’ve arranged to stay a couple nights at the small inn on the property. When I finally approach Heceta Lighthouse, I feel like I’m walking back in time, into a quaint, uncomplicated era. 


Atop a rocky expanse, the waves below battle the lighthouse for dominance while tourists and photographer’s get their best shots. I approach the grand, nineteenth century structure and spot it: the stone ledge that my guides told Shiela they want me to climb onto. It’s a decorative strip, about seven feet up from the ground and six inches deep, adding detail to the solid white façade. 


I circle the tower and strategize where I will attempt to climb up and where I can get off.

Yeah, I think I can walk on that. Then I look back at the crowd. But you’re gonna have to give me a hand with them, because this isn’t a spectator sport! I wait for a while, but the crowd is persistent. Since “the path” is obviously not simple, I decide to return to my room and try again tomorrow.


The next day, leaning into the support of my cane, I stroll the beautiful grounds once again, making my way to the lighthouse. As I gaze at the perennials edging a picket fence, I hear the words, Lose the fear, find the wonder.  By the time I reach the lighthouse, the sun is almost at its zenith. The scene looks like the palladium surface of a sundial, or maybe the face of a compass. 


There are many people here. To my right is a tourists’ viewfinder and straight ahead a bench that looks out to Seal Rock; plenty of seagulls but no seals that I can see. To my left is scenic Highway 101, with cars winding back and forth and around the bend. The place is a buzz. Clearly this is not yet the time to undertake my mission.


Come evening, I retire to the inn, once again thwarted by the crowds. As it turns out, the mattress in my room is also on the historic register. So in the middle of the night, after I’ve given up on trying to sleep, I decide to get a nighttime view. I grab a long-handled flashlight on my way out the door, and make extra noise with my cane to avert anything that may want to cross my path. Thank you Girl Scouts!  


I reach the lighthouse and I am immediately in awe as beams of light travel across the cliffs. Utterly breathtaking! The light casts cathedral windows against the rocks and it hits me: The lighthouse is giving off light 24/7. I’m such a city girl, this hasn’t occurred to me before! The Lighthouse is like a living, breathing being. I shiver on a park bench and watch the beams circle and illuminate their path. I think about being raised Catholic. I consider times in my life when I felt no one was there. I listen to the rotation of the lens above me and wonder about my destiny. Where is my community?  


The next afternoon, my final day, I return to the lighthouse at about 4:00, just as the weather is getting angry. There is little sun amidst the clouds and finally the place is empty. Now is the time. I walk to the seaward side of the lighthouse, where I manage to climb up onto the decorative ledge and lean my back against the tower. It’s a little warm! 

Then, as Sheila and my guides instructed, I drop my cane. Ok. You can do this! 


Slowly, I scale the circumference, my back sliding against the wall as I go. I manage to look up most of the way, but see no sign of the flashing light.

In about 10 minutes I reach the far end. I scan the horizon, thankful that I’m still alone. I look down. The distance certainly looked closer when I was down there looking up than it does now that I’m up here looking down. There isn’t an easy way to do this. I’ll need to jump. I muster my courage and leap, falling softly onto the grass. Relieved that I’ve landed safely, I realize my heart has been racing and I haven’t been breathing much. 


I’m proud of my courage, yet also perplexed. Did I miss something?

It’s getting late. I walk unassisted to retrieve my cane from where I dropped it. I offer a final prayer, bid farewell to majestic Heceta, and set off for home.


About a month later, I finally see Shiela for a follow-up session. I share my disappointment that I didn’t see a flash of light, as the guides said I would. I tell her about the spectacular nighttime view, how I had felt an incredible sense of wonder and comfort to see the beams of light creating “windows” and “doors” against the hills. But I’m frustrated things weren’t as they were supposed to be. I didn’t find that “lighthouse community project,” even though I’d inquired and even gone into town and asked several people. No one knew anything about it.


To my surprise, and for the first time, I actually sense the guides as they respond to me. It feels as if there are five or six of them sitting next to one another, across from me, like a panel. I get the sense they aren’t pleased with my report. Shiela helps to translate.  

“How do you know there wasn’t a flash of light?” says one of the guides. “Well, I thought of that. I looked down briefly, so there may have been, but I didn’t see it,” I reply.


As I recall this scene now, three years later, I smile. I was naïve and couldn’t yet see this journey through its metaphors. My nighttime experience showed me that perpetual light creates windows and doors on the landscape of life. And by scaling the lighthouse and releasing my cane I was learning to trust life and lean into faith. I would also come to understand that the “lighthouse community” didn’t yet exist. It’s what I was being called to create. 


I had expected an instant flash of enlightenment, but my guides were asking me to put some skin in the game, to make a commitment to the path that I couldn’t yet see. This was my initiation.