June 9 – Being the candle, or being the mirror

“There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.” (Edith Wharton)

About 5 years ago, my wife and I stayed at a lighthouse on an island in Lake Huron. For about 24 hours, we were the only people on the island. A storm raged while we were there for a couple of hours, so we were huddled inside the building. The actual building where we stayed was the fog signal building that had been converted to accommodate up to 8 people.

The building had no electricity, and the only light at night was from two gas lamps on the wall. There also was not any central heat, so they provided whatever heat we had until it was time to get beneath the blankets and comforter.

The flame from the gas lights were small, no more than what you would get with those scented candles that have become so popular. During the day when I was making sure I knew how to light them, they gave off very little noticeable light. A small globe fit over them when lit to help reflect and focus the light around the room, not unlike the globes on hurricane lamps.

If you’ve ever played around with a candle lantern or hurricane lamp, then you know how much the light is amplified when the globe is placed over the flame. The flame itself doesn’t provide much light, but the globe, or the mirror that sometimes comes with it, helps to spread that light to fill the room.

When night fell, and the storm was raging, those gas lamps lit the entire room. The light produced by the small flames was magnified by the globes to provide a soft, warm glow. It wasn’t lit like a surgical theater, but it was sufficient to move about and even to play a hand or two of cards.

In life, sometimes I am the candle, and sometimes I am the globe or mirror. I can be the solitary flame that burns, and is essential to spreading light, or I can be the glass that amplifies someone else’s light to make the light shine brighter.

As a leader of a team, often I am in the position of the latter. Often it is someone from my team who is the flame. Their work and dedication produce results that must be shared with others. Often it is my job to share those results with senior management, or with the community at large. I do not become the flame, instead I am the globe that helps amplify the flame to make it shine more brightly, allowing a larger audience to see the flame of my team’s good work.

I see this model play out in life in many ways. There are thousands of people who do good works for the betterment of all. They stand as individual flames flickering in the wind. Sometimes there is a mirror to reflect and spread that light, other times they toil in solitude. When I was on the silent walk at the Relay for Life, we were all carrying small tapirs that were lit from a single source. It was a symbolic gesture of how we all can spread hope. The individual flames of the candles were quite beautiful to see in the serpentine procession. If the several hundred of us could have had mirrors or globes for the light, that light would have been magnified tenfold.

This morning my reflection is about where in my life I need to be the flame, and where I need to be the mirror. What efforts are going on in my professional and personal life where I am the flame? And what flames are around me, flickering against the wind, which need my help to make them shine more brightly?

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