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light — The Meaningful Traveler


Traveling Light – Part 3

by Steve Brock on December 21, 2011

The example at the Feast of Lights, of a single candle burning in the dark whose flame then passes to others and so on until the whole of the space is illuminated, is much the same as with our trips. Each trip starts as a singular event, complete in of itself, much like that single candle. But then, it becomes much more.

Each trip is like one of these flames, burning on its own but illuminating much more

I remember a trip as a kid where we visited the Shasta Caverns in Northern California. At one point, deep in these caves, our guide warned us that he was about to turn off the lights. And so he did. He then informed us that we stood in total darkness with no possible trace of light. And so we did.

It’s a rather eerie sense, not because it is all that much darker than the darkest night or a room with no windows, but because of the realization of complete absence. We inherently fear most not what we don’t have, but what we do have that we might lose. This explains in part why sightless people when surveyed on average are willing to pay much less to regain their sight than sighted people are to prevent losing theirs. Thus, it wasn’t so much the dark that was unnerving as the removal of the light.

Then, as we were all getting sufficiently spooked out by the absolute gloom engulfing us, our guide lit a match. In a well lit room, you will barely note the light created by a match. In our dark cavern, however, that one small flame seemed like a 500 watt bulb. So much light from such a small, singular source.

And so it is with our trips. Each trip – even a short day excursion to a place a few miles from home – can encompass more than you would think. And like the match in a bright room, comparisons to the exotic destinations of other travelers may not seem to fare well. But that doesn’t matter: the experience of your trip – no matter where or for how long – is yours. As such, it blazes at the time like the match in the cave and enlightens your memories from that point on.

The best part is that none of our experiences stand alone. We do not live our trips – even solo ventures – in isolation. Like the candles at the Feast of Lights, each passes to the next, one trip building on another. Over time, a singular event leads to another and so on until we look back and come to an enlightening realization: all our trips are more than individual travel experiences.

They have become the building blocks of who we are. We are ablaze with the cumulative experience of all we have seen and become as a result.


If you haven’t read them yet, here are links to Part 1 and Part 2 of this series.

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Traveling Light – Part 2

by Steve Brock on December 16, 2011

Last time we left off with my wife and I attending the annual Feast of Lights at the University of Redlands. We’d just come back from intermission, taken our seats and then, the lights go out and we now sit in complete darkness.

All too soon we begin wondering what comes next for you can only sit in the dark so long without at least questions – if not something more disconcerting –  rising out of the dark corners of your own imagination. And then, a voice penetrates our unseeing.

The narrator reminds us of an ancient story that we need to be reminded of more often. “The world was in darkness. And into the darkness came a great light…” With these words, our guide through this darkness lights a single candle there at the podium. As he continues to read of the Light of the World, the story unfolds not just in words, but in radiance.

From that single candle, two people approach and light candles of their own. They pass their flames to others and then we realize that in the darkness, the entire choir has entered and has spread throughout the entire chapel. Candle to candle, like dominos of flame, the light passes until the entire cavernous chapel is illuminated with more brilliance than you ever thought possible from candlelight alone.

Soon, as the story winds down, we are all singing together, bathed in this light. It resembles the Great Hall scene at Hogwarts from the Harry Potter movies. Except here, the room reverberates with something more pure, more holy, filled with a transcendent mystery rather than a fictional magic. We have entered as individuals, but we are now one, wrapped in the sameness of light but more than that, sharing a communal song, spirit and hope.

And then, slowly, gradually and with a solemn joy, the choir exits and we are asked to do the same but in silence, departing as this portion of the evening’s experience began, in stillness.

As we exit the chapel, we step out into the cold night air and we collectively gasp, but not from the temperature. Before us, all streetlights and other distractions are now suppressed. Instead, we witness the surprise of hundreds of luminarias lit up and lining the pathways of the Quad, small markers of light that combine to create a wondrous glow.

We began in darkness and together in darkness we experienced a shared light. And now, once again on our own yet somehow still strangely connected, we go forth into the world, much different than when we arrived. We came alone in darkness. We leave, together, illuminated.

To be continued…

If you haven’t read Traveling Light – Part 1 you can do so here

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Traveling Light – Part 1

by Steve Brock on December 13, 2011

Much cries out for our time and attention during the holiday season. And Scrooge that I am, I find that most of the Siren calls for shopping and contrived holiday events leave be colder than the Grinch’s two-sizes-too-small heart or the December weather outside.

But this last week, reluctantly I will admit, I took a small trip with my family to a nearby university. They performed their annual Christmas program with symphony and choir. And within minutes, I was no longer grumbling about the lack of holiday cheer. For what I experienced – a reflection on the Magnificat through instrument and voice – was nothing less than magical, an extended moment, a movement actually, of great beauty.

The program reminded me of another trip, this one several years ago, back to my alma mater, The University of Redlands in Southern California. There, on another chilly (though less so, being So Cal) evening, my wife and I attended the annual Feast of Lights, a Christmas celebration I had attended several times before as a child and a student. But as is the case with certain trips, places and events, coming back as an adult changes in more ways than age alone dictates, how we enter into, understand and appreciate an experience.

The program had similarities to the one I just witnessed here in the Seattle area, only this one, The Feast of Lights, has been going on for over 60 years. It is, as the school calls it, “a tapestry of scripture, poetry, music and drama.” But on this particular evening, it was so much more…


We enter into the large Chapel on a campus of ivy-covered buildings, neo-classical architecture, and memories of all my time here attending as a student. Thus, I go as much out of nostalgia as out of any desire for a Christmas celebration.

We find our seats and then the program begins with music: the symphony plays the familiar Christmas songs and we listen to the vast choir. Periodically the audience joins in singing… all the things you’d expect. But then something different occurs.

The Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke is read, but instead of merely hearing the words, the scene is presented as a tableaux, a living painting. Actors dressed as Mary, Joseph, shepherd, wise man and all the rest stand frozen behind a translucent veil, invisible at first to us until the lights on the outside of their small proscenium space go down and those inside begin to glow, revealing the scene.

As a kid, this was my favorite part, picking out just one of the characters and staring them down in a game to see if I could catch them swaying or blinking. But now, I take it all in, more appreciative of the story behind the scene than any of the technical feats required to bring it about.

More singing, reading and tableaux scenes unfold until it is time for intermission. The evening so far is enjoyable. I appreciate the artistic value and hard work of so many people to pull off something like this. But still, I’m eager for a break, so we, along with several hundred other spectators, shuffle out for fresh air and small talk.

We step outside and peer out into the gloom across the dark Quad that lies before the Chapel, able to discern the large trees silhouetted by distant street lights. After the appropriate break, the herd makes its way back into the Chapel in clumps and spurts, finding our way to our respective seats, individuals all.

And as we settle back for more, we’re suddenly met with something surprising: nothing.

All the lights are extinguished. We sit in complete darkness. I had remembered this part from the past, yet I am unprepared for what happens next…

To be continued…

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