December 19, 2007

The Gas Lamp

2007 1535 page31 capt’s gone. The gas lamp is gone. About eight months ago I started walking for exercise up the steepest foothills I could find around Loma Linda (which are not very many, or very steep). Also near that time I began to pass through a truly difficult period in my life, a period in which I couldn’t remember feeling so completely alone. My walks became a time for extended prayer and seeking God’s comforting presence.
I had managed to find a long, steep paved road lined by some of the nicer homes of our town. It ends in a cul-de-sac, beyond which is another hill trail.
During some of the hottest days of the summer, when my heart felt heaviest with the weight of my troubles, I found it easier to do my walking in the evening, when it was cooler. So up that hill I went every day after dark, thankful to have this safe venue.
On my first evening’s walk I became aware of an unusual glowing object standing at the foot of a long driveway. As I drew closer I realized it was a lamppost—but what was that soft, flickering light emanating from it? Could it be . . . could it honestly be a real gas lamp?
2007 1535 page31I examined the lamp more closely. It was true . . . there was a real flame inside that black brass polygon, shining stalwartly through smoke-hazed lenses. My heart felt quietly joyful, filled with a strange peace. The light in the darkness, I thought. The Light of the world. A lamp unto my feet.
With every lap I paced, the lamp grew in significance for me. Each night my desire to see the lamp grew stronger. I couldn’t wait for the moment it came into view. It represented hope to me: Jesus’ presence on that hill and in my life.
Soon I began to wonder about the family who had placed it there. I wanted to thank them, to tell them what the lamp meant to me. I watched, then, every time I walked, to see if someone from that house might appear. I didn’t want to bother them by knocking on their door, but I dearly hoped to speak to them to say thanks.
I returned to walking in the mornings, which were growing blissfully cooler. Then one morning I came around the curve to find the woman of the house outside getting her newspaper. Finally, I thought, I have my chance!
I approached her with the usual apology for the interruption, and proceeded to express my feelings of gratitude for her lamp. I turned to motion toward it, but . . . the lamp was empty! The light extinguished! Poor woman. Here I was thanking her, and she had to tell me they’d removed the gas lamp the day before.
She regretfully explained that the mechanism had grown old, the flame was burning too high, and the gas company suggested they replace it with a solar light in order to save energy. They agreed, so the gas company removed the aging mantle and capped the line.
Score one for global warming and the “greens,” I guess.
But the world for me had just become a bit dimmer. I cried on my way down the hill. It’s a small loss, but small losses add up.
Jesus is still the Light of my life, but to me the world had just lost a tiny symbol of His Presence. It was a sad day.
Do you sometimes feel the sadness too? The “soul” seeping out of our world? The sweetness lost with each warm lightbulb replaced with those eery fluorescent spirals? The stab in your heart when you see the last old barn near your town torn down, the last orange grove razed for a new parking lot?
I imagine our forebearers felt the same way as wax candles and then kerosene lamps went the way of horse-drawn buggies and covered bridges. There’s no stopping “progress.” But sometimes one wishes one could. Or maybe just hang on to a few shreds.
Just one small gas lamp in my little town. So much meaning.
How thankful I am to know that Jesus is still here. No human action can extinguish His presence in our lives. He will always be with us and guide us—even when our hills seem dark and steep and devoid of comfort.
Janine Goffar is a nurse and freelance writer living in Loma Linda, California.