This I Believe

Su - DeKalb, Illinois
Entered on October 10, 2006
Age Group: 50 - 65
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This I Believe (National Public Radio)

Driving through the dark before sunrise on my way to work, I was struck by the number of porch lights glowing. Someone who lives in an urban high-rise doesn’t know the significance of the porch light on a house.

I believe the humble porch light reflects the core of what connects and links us as humans. It’s more than an electrical device. The porch light says the people inside care about you. It’s like a lighthouse on a dark ocean shore guiding you to your homeport. Rolling up the driveway to a porch light says you have a connection to this place. Someone is concerned for your safety in the dark and has taken measures to make sure you won’t trip over the garden hose. When I was in my 20s leaving my parent’s home in South Beloit, Illinois to head back to my apartment, my Mom would always flick the porch light off and on as I drove away. That flickering light said “We love you and miss the days you lived here as a child. Take care on the road.”

But a dark porch light can also send you a message. When I was mad at my former husband for missing supper, I would turn the porch light out. He knew when he came home to a dark driveway that our link was broken. One winter, my daughter, her friends and I decided to tour the neighborhood Christmas caroling. As we approached several homes they turned off their porch lights. I was so surprised by this Scrooge-like action that I knocked on one of the doors. They lady said they didn’t want to donate any money, when all we wanted to do was entertain them with Christmas carols. Once she understood, the porch light came back on. She turned on her link to us.

On Halloween night, every home on my street has a glowing porch light saying “Come connect with us little children. Don’t trip on our steps.” But on normal evenings the human connection is severed. “We’re all home, safe inside, the light’s off, go away.”

I believe our human connections are too much like the porch light switch on the living room wall. We turn these links on and off when we please. But being on the receiving end, out in the dark is a lonely place. I try to keep my “life” porch light on at all times, not only for family and friends but strangers. That light that links me to another person might be the connection that keeps them going today, makes them try a little harder and just maybe let’s them know, that there are people in this home called America that we share, who care about them. When I say hello to a stranger on the street, my porch light says: “Don’t trip on life’s steps and you be careful on the road ahead of you.”