I must confess that lately, I have allowed my light to be diminished. Though I always considered myself a “small,” often shy person, I have learned to recognize a quiet power burning inside of me. The first half of my 30’s have empowered me to open up and become more confident, more sunny and even outgoing at times. But I have felt myself retreating into my dim shell again and I have wondered why.
As children’s book writers and illustrators, I think it’s easy sometimes to feel like what we do is trivial. I sit my little self down at my little desk to write little words and make little pictures with paint and pencils and I wonder how any of it matters in the face of this big ol’ world and all of its troubles. My friends and family are nothing but supportive of me and my work, but when I look around at people I love facing dire health problems, heartbreaking relationship issues and mountainous financial challenges, my subconscious instinct is to make myself and my dreams smaller in order to allow space for their troubles to overflow into my life, like I could somehow absorb their difficulties and pain. An untruthful voice tells me that I must diminish my own light because it will hurt the eyes of the ones around me whose lives have fallen under a season of shadow.
But as artists, who are we but lighthouses to those struggling through the dark waves? We are bearers of the light, keepers of the light, but not the Light itself. Perhaps it’s not that we allow our lights to be diminished, but that we forget to clean the windows, to rub away the streaks of doubt and the grime leftover from the harsh words of some who aim to hurt us and to throw us off track.
All the while, the Light shines as bright as ever, sure as the rising sun.
Martha Graham, the dance choreographer, has written some of my all-time favorite words about the importance of art :
There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.
What is your gift? What is your unique medium of expressing light and life to the world? Like me, do you need to clean the windows of your lighthouse, to scrub them until they are free of the buildup of doubt, fear, frustration or comparison that could be dimming your light? You are special. What is it that holds you back from sharing your gifts with others?
While I polish up my windows, I consider the children who will read my words and pour over my illustrations. They are also little light-bearers, in the first tender stages of learning who they are and what gifts they have to offer to the world. And what better way for them to learn than from stories? What we do is powerful. What we do is important. What we do is offer hope, joy and laughter to a hurting world that craves Life. We write for children who are young but certainly not immune to trouble. And as a parent myself, I know that adults who cradle children in their laps for story-time can find profound solace in a picture book too.