Maybe it’s not about what we say or don’t say, do or don’t do. Maybe it’s just about being there, shining a steady light into someone else’s darkness.
It was just something he said one night. One night when we’d smoked ourselves stupid on some quality pot. As a teenager, and usually the only girl in our little circle, it was a thing of pride for me- don’t tap out until the boys do. He and I were always the last to be up for “one more.” Yet he never let me touch anything but pot. If I even hinted at trying something harder, the look of surprise and disappointment on his face was enough to deter me. Funny, looking back, that it took me so long to realize he was battling heroin addiction. We all have our shit, I guess.
But perhaps that night it was only the two of us, because in my mind I see only him, his lanky body melting into my couch, turning his lighter over and around between long fingers.
“You really form a bond with your lighter. Not like, a deep emotional bond,” he said, “but a bond. Like it’s always there for you. To light stuff.”
I laughed at his way with words, enjoying the silliness. But the next day, the phrase replayed in my mind, bringing giggles each time, until I pulled out my markers and wrote the words, multicolored, in my art journal. And there it stayed.
A couple of years later, I’d stopped smoking and become an anxiety-ridden mess of a girl. I met a terrible man who insisted I give up my friends, and I listened to him. We all have our shit. A few years after that, my friend lost his battle with addiction. We all have our shit.
And yet, through all of the memories, the ones I cherish and the ones I wish I could erase, that damn line about the lighter stayed. Long after I tossed that art journal. Long after I wrecked my life and my friend lost his. Still that quote, that silly phrase uttered in a moment of mind-mush, was etched into my brain. And although I recalled it often, I never really found any meaning in it. It was just a memory that made me smile.
Last night, I had a dream about my friend. Well, sort of. In the dream he was already gone, and I was searching frantically for a picture of him. Pictures are one loss in my life that I deeply regret. I should have kept the photos and lost the toxic humans in my life. Now I have neither, but I only miss the pictures. Anyway, I was searching, searching, for a picture of his face. I didn’t want to forget. An odd turn from my subconscious, since I think of him- and his thoughts on lighters- often. But this morning, I’m left with an understanding of the phrase that I’ve never before considered…
Don’t let a lighter be the most dependable thing in someone’s life. No, scratch that, that’s not quite right. BE the lighter in someone’s life. Share your light, and warmth, and comfort. Just be there. Let someone know that in their darkness, they can reach for you, and you’ll be there. And, interestingly enough, I truly tried to embody that idea in those days. Before life interfered and my light went out for a while. Maybe that’s why the phrase stuck with me for so long. Or maybe I’m just trying to find meaning, after all these years, in the things that happen that we can’t control. Find a lesson, find the good, find and cradle a happy memory until I’m certain that it’s burned into my soul, so that I’ll never forget. Maybe. But from now on, I’ll never fail to be a lighter. I’ll never turn away, thinking “He can handle this,” or “She’ll get through it on her own.” And maybe that’s a legacy worthy of him. Maybe that’s a legacy worthy of all those we’ve lost to addiction and mental illness.
Go out and be a lighter.