I've already taken crap here for admitting that I like James Taylor music,* and this is probably going to lead to more of the same. But I've had a stanza of a song rattling around in my head intermittently for a few months now, and I need to try to get it out.
I'm a lonely lighthouse, not a ship out in the night
I'm watching the sea
She's come half-way round the world to see the light
and to stay away from me
I was in Naval Junior ROTC in high school, during the closing years of the Viet Nam war. We marched, polished our shoes and belt buckles, and learned to do all that "right shoulder arms" stuff with fake rifles. I was second in command, so I got a sword. And yes, it was exactly as cool as you think to carry a sword.
We also learned to navigate, which was my favorite thing. I was the best in class at navigation, probably because my father was both an architect and a lover of maps, so most of the tools were very familiar to me. Before there was GPS, navigation involved occasionally figuring out where you were, comparing that with where you thought you were, and then determining what direction you needed to go to get back on course. You would repeat this process until you tied up at the dock.
The "figuring out where you were" part often involved sighting two or three landmarks and triangulating your position from the angle to them. Lighthouses were built specifically to be these kinds of landmarks for navigation. Mistaking the distance to these landmarks often caused ships to run aground. So in the end, maritime navigation really is (or was) a process of finding something and staying away from it.
There's a metaphor here somewhere. We all need fixed points in our lives to help us find our way. Without them, we are just sailing around with no direction or purpose. Religion, politics, adventure, love, sex, and career can all serve this purpose to some degree, and at different times. But if we become too attached to one or another and fix our gaze on it, we risk crashing at the feet of the very thing that was supposed to save us.
How do we find the right balance? How the hell should I know? To paraphrase a line later in the song, just because I'm standing here doesn't mean I won't be wrong this time.
* The early stuff, before he went commercial.**
** That's a joke