When I was a little kid, I always went to my church’s Christmas Eve service. One pastor turned off all the lights, lit a candle, and said it was the light of Jesus shining in the dark world. Then, the person next to him lit their candle with his flame. It was a chain reaction, until the whole sanctuary was aglow. It symbolized evangelism. Now, I like to think of that Christmas Eve ritual in a non-religious context. If we shine, others will come near to us. (Maybe there is a reason the human eye is attracted to light?) They will be inspired by our light, and will transform into quiet flame themselves. Perhaps the most intriguing part of this analogy is that the unlit candle always reached over to the lit one.
Now, I’m not saying that we should stay stagnant and wait for everyone to approach us. The meaning in this is that we need not be pushy or grandiose in our kindness efforts. Trying to lean into someone else’s life with our flame could easily burn them, thus instilling in them a fear of tender fire. We don’t need to start our own hunger charity or volunteer overseas for twelve years. Sometimes, the best way to inspire others into a life of goodness is to live a life of goodness ourselves. Be gentle, but fair. Be kind, but just. Seek to understand and empathize, but do not abandon truth in the process. If your flame begins to dwindle, lean to another and light it again. There are seven billion of us on this planet. As long as just one person is ablaze, we are not lost. We are never lost.
It is also important to remember that every candle is different. Some are tall, others are short. Some are old and melted, others are still young, but every single one is beautiful. One light does not shine like another – and isn’t that the most wonderful thing? What attracts one may not attract another. That’s why variety is so vital. That’s why each flame matters, why we should never hide our light under a bushel (no!). Your flame could be what another lost candle needs to start glowing. Saying that there are billions of other candles to glow is no excuse to hide away, whether out of fear or out of greed. Your candle is just what another may need. The world could never glow if each person assumed that another would shine. We cannot live on the assumption that somebody else will do good work. We must do our own good work, out of love and duty.
Because, after all, it is the light of love and duty that pulls even the thickest darkness out of its secrecy and into luminous truth.