Re-Igniting the Spark


“At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”

Albert Schweitzer

I’ve had good cause to be grateful for the friends who have been part of my life. The boyhood pals who made me part of the gang even though I was a fat kid, my seminary friends who shared my dreams, the Japanese teachers who helped me learn a difficult language, the Afro-American parishioners who accepted their honky priest as one of their own, senior center folks who have remained loyal friends through the years.

But the friends I cherish most are the ones who believed in me when I was down, the ones who re-ignited the flame when I was discouraged and had lost hope. My own Dad filled that role for me time and time again. He would see me sad-faced after I had made an error in a baseball game or pulled a “D” on my report card and bellow in his strong Irish voice “C’mon Hank, get your tail up.” For some reason his earthy words wrought magic.

Haven’t you ever had someone like that in your life? What a gift when you do. You, my readers, have been my spark more times than I can count. Writing is a lonely profession. I work hard at saying something in these columns that will connect with someone “out there” but there are times when I get no reaction at all. No letter to the editor, no phone calls or e-mail assuring me that I am heard. Woe is me! Then just as I am about to hold my own pity party, someone will call or write. “Hank, I enjoy your columns. Keep writing.” The torch is re-ignited; my tail resumes its upright position.

Thoreau wrote that most of humankind “live lives of quiet desperation.” I’m not convinced that is true but I do think that there are times in all of our lives when we do ask ourselves “Why should I haul my butt out of bed in the morning? What’s the use?” The totality of our lives may not be lived in a state of “quiet desperation” but who among us have never experienced a time when we have questioned the meaning of it all.

It’s at times like these we need a friend to light a candle in the darkness, to tell us that all is not lost, that there is a God, a God that dwells not up in the sky above but within each of us. When the image of God in us speaks to the image of God in a friend, the flame that was flickering is re-lighted.

The thing is, most of us don’t realize the power we have to provide that spark that will move another from despair to hope. When the day is done it is not the words of philosophers and great thinkers that move our lives; it is the sympathetic word of a friend, a hug from a spouse, a pat on the back from someone who cares.