How to Be a Lighthouse

by Martin Auer

I remember now, in an earlier life I was a lighthouse. You probably won't know that, but souls do pass on to buildings and machines as well. For instance, if you lead a sinful, wasteful life, you might come back as a car. Or a dishwasher. This only happens to people. A frog never comes back as a lawn mower. It wouldn't know how to be one. But there are many people who know perfectly well how to be a lawn mower. So take care of your karma.

Anyway, when I woke up to consciousness and the world saw my light I was real proud. I flashed out my message over the sea: Two short, one long, pause, three short. And again after two minutes: Two short, one long, pause, three short. And again. And again. This really kept me happy for days. Months even. Two short, one long, pause, three short. That was my message to the world. And a good message it was. It saved lives. It helped thousands of seamen to make a living. Support their families. It kept world trade going. Two short, one long, pause, three short. Cool rhythm, too! Two short, one long, pause, three short! It really was something!

After a while I began to wonder if there wasn't a deeper meaning to it also. I watched the sea. Didn't the waves roll in from the sea in just that rhythm? First two small ones, then a big one, then a short calm, then three small ones again? Most of the time they seemed to follow that rhythm. Of course you had to know when to start the count. Sometimes I got it wrong. But that was due to a momentary lack of concentration on my part. The waves were all right, they kept to the pattern. I was quite sure of that.

And the wind. The wind did it too. The sequence of light breezees, stronger gusts and calms in beetween followed the same pattern. Of course, not everybody could differentiate correctly between breeze and gust. You had to get the feel for it. But once you knew when to expect a breeze and when a gust, it became rather easy to tell which was which.

And then there were the seagulls. The way they sat in a row on the rocks below me was not random at all. If you looked closely, you could notice that the spaces between them followed the same pattern again.

All this was no accident. There was meaning in it. Two short, one long, pause, three short. It was a law of nature. Two short, one long, pause, three short. Yes, I had found a fundamental law of nature, no mistake.

But had I really found it? Had it been the same, before I had come, before I began flashing out my signal? How could the waves have known which sequence they should follow rolling in from the sea, without my flashing out the rhythm for them? How could the wind have known how to blow, the seagulls how to seat themselves on the rock? Wasn't nature as a whole following my rhythm, like an orchestra follows the conductor? Hadn't I, in fact, given the law to nature?

A grand thought, yes. Proud. Or was I being too conceited? But facts are facts, aren't they?

Even the stars arranged themselves in the night sky after the same fashion. You could draw imaginary lines through the them, and find the pattern along those lines. Sometimes it were the different sizes of them which formed the pattern, sometimes the spaces between them, sometimes their brightness. But the pattern could be found all over the sky if you only looked for it. So this in fact was the secret formula of the world: Two short, one long, pause, three short. It was everywhere. The grass at my foot was too far away for me to determine the relative lengths of single blades, but I was sure they would follow the pattern.

There was only one thing that annoyed me. On very clear nights I could see a small star very low above the horizon. It was a blinking star. And it blinked three short, pause, three short, pause, three short... It never varied. It didn't keep to the rhythm. It upset everything. The whole harmony of nature was disrupted by this little star.

"Two short, one long, pause, three short!" I flashed at it angrily.

"Three short, pause, three short, pause..." it flashed back.


"Yes, sure, three short, pause, three short, pause..."


"Yeah, what's biting you? Three short, pause, three short, pause..."


"What rhythm?"


"Yeah, cool rhythm. Three short, pause, three short, pause..."


"Because I have to do three short, pause, three short, pause... I can't do anything else."





My god, what a laugh they had. The sea and the wind, the rocks and the seagulls, every single blade of grass beneath me, they were all howling with laughter. And the other lighthouse of course, ha ha ha, pause, ha ha ha, pause the whole night.

As you can imagine, I had a hard time learning about the size of the globe and the lenght of all the coastlines; about navigation and trigonometry; about seamaps and sailors handbooks and the reason why every lighthouse has its own individual signal which distinguishes it from the others. And about needing at least two points of reference to determine ones position. That recognizing a single lighthouse doesn't really tell you where you are.

I couldn't believe any of this at first. There was no meaning in it. It wasn't real. Only after a while I learned to accept that the world I had construed for myself had not been real. I learned that I still had a meaningful role to fulfil, even if it meant something only in conjunction with others playing similar roles. I even began to be a little proud of my individuality, my distinct, unique, unmistakable signal which, even if it didn't set the rhythm of the universe, still gave meaning to my existence.

So when I was torn down to make room for a bigger lighthouse, I was allowed to come back as a human being. I also learned that before being a lighthouse I had been the Pope.

Nowadays they use satellites for navigation. They're infallible.

This text has been inspired by
Lighthouses and Billiard Balls by Jerry Dreesen

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