The Lower Lights

lighthouseIt was 1971.  Elder Boyd K Packer was in Western Samoa, tending to Church business there.  On an evening that they were to catch a plane back from Savai’i island back to Upolu island, it was raining and they knew the plane would not be able to land on the grassy runway.  So they drove to the west end of the island and waited by a make shift runway on a coral reef.  But no plane came.  They received word that there was a storm and the plane would not make it.  So they decided to go by boat.  They took the trip by boat on rough seas, not realizing they were heading straight into a tropical storm.

We arrived in the harbor at Mulifanua. There was one narrow passage we were to go through along the reef. A light on the hill above the beach and a second lower light marked the narrow passage. When a boat was maneuvered so that the two lights were one above the other, the boat would be lined up properly to pass through the dangerous rocks that lined the passage.

Unfortunately, the two young missionary boys assigned to wait for them had fallen asleep.

But that night there was only one light. Two elders were waiting on the landing to meet us, but the crossing took much longer than usual. After watching for hours for signs of our boat, the elders tired and fell asleep, neglecting to turn on the second light, the lower light. As a result, the passage through the reef was not clear.

The captain tried to navigate the passage with just one light.

The captain maneuvered the boat as best he could toward the one upper light on shore while a crewman held the borrowed flashlight over the bow, searching for rocks ahead. We could hear the breakers crashing over the reef. When we were close enough to see them with the flashlight, the captain frantically shouted reverse and backed away to try again to locate the passage.

After many attempts, he knew it would be impossible to find the passage. All we could do was try to reach the harbor at Apia 40 miles (64 km) away.

They then spent the rest of the night in the storm to reach the harbor at Apia.   Elder Packer would never allow anyone to tell him the names of the boys who fell asleep that night.  This fits his personality.  He is not one to condemn.  He simply went on about his duties.  Read the full account here.

I’ve thought about this story many times.  This is the kind of story that draws me in deeply.  I’m not satisfied to just read it.  I have to put myself in it.  I wonder what the rain would have been like.  Warm?  Heavy?  It must have been heavy enough to convince me to wait for the plane at a different landing strip.  And how long would that have taken?  After a full day of work, how tired would I be?  And when, finally, I realized that the plane was not coming, would I have complained?  I don’t do well when I’m tired.   All filters turn off, all guards come down.  I am not patient.  I am not kind.  And how long on the water to make the 13 mile trip, heading straight for a tropical storm?  The journey would not have been easy.  Would I have joined in with the oars to keep the small boat afloat?  I imagine I would feel a bit of relief at finally reaching the harbor.  How long to try to navigate the passage with just a flashlight?  How many hours until realizing we must take another 40 mile journey to a different harbor, all because two people fell asleep?  Would I blame?  How tired would I be now?  And finally reaching the harbor at dawn, only to dry off my clothes and journey on to the next assignment…would I complain?  No sleep.  An exhausting physical journey that wound up taking the entire night.  Would I be cold?  Would I be hungry?  Would I be numb?  Would I be kind?  Would I want to find those little pip squeak boys and strangle their necks?  These are the things that draw me into a story like this.

And there are the lights.  Those lights though.  I’ve never heard of lower lights before.  It’s a fascinating concept to me.  A simple solution to a navigating problem.  Easy enough to turn on the lower light.  But that one little light would make all the difference to a seaman fighting for his life.  The lower light.

I suppose there are many lights in our lives.  My parents.  My husband.  My children.  Then there is the education we all seek, the glorified career that will support our family.  This and that.  Things we want.  Goals in life.  The upper lights may change I suppose.  All those things we yearn for, seek after.  All good things.  Well, mostly.  But the lower light.  That’s the one that caught my attention.  Without the lower light, the seaman is lost to the sea, however lofty his goal, however focused on the upper light.

What is my lower light in life?  For me it is the Savior.   The Atonement.  All of my goals in life, all the things I strive to reach, or to become, are not truly attainable without the Savior.  The college degree is a wonderful thing.  The husband’s career is very important.  Even parents’ examples, and children’s fulfillment, all of it.  If my lower light isn’t in place, all of those things still won’t bring me back to where it all started.

And life did not start here.  On this earth.  In this vast universe.  This is not our home.  Our oldest daughter, when she was three years old, began to say strange things to me.  Whenever she would get upset at me, or her brother, over something trivial but so important to a three year old, she would say “my other mother wouldn’t yell at me” or “my other brother wouldn’t hit me.”  After some weeks of this consistent commentary, I began asking her about this other family of hers.  Apparently, she had frequent dreams about this other family who was far superior to ours.  These dreams and comments lasted a year.  I began to question if she’d been sent to the wrong family!  I mean, really!  I was already insecure enough about my abilities as a mother, but to be constantly told that I was falling short was, well, not great for me.  We laugh about it now.   Her claiming that she was in the wrong home.   But aren’t we all?  Our home is with our God.  And to Him we shall return, whether we believe it or not.  It is so easy to get caught up in our small little worlds with our families and our jobs, and our problems and our wants and needs.  It takes only a walk in nature, or a look at the stars in the sky, or even a tragedy, to bring us back to things as they really are.

The ways of this world are, in fact, alien to the better world [we seek] to prepare for.  Thus [we] must be realistic, for to be too quick to adjust to the ways of this world is to be maladjusted for the next.  (Things As They Really Are, Neal A Maxwell, 18)

And so I realize that without the lower light, I simply won’t make it back to the home I know is mine.  With all that life can throw at me, I know that navigating it with the lower light on, is much better than trying it with just a flash light.  I know that if I can see things as they really are, and focus on what is really important, that I’ll indeed make it back home safe and sound.

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