A number of years ago I went to a silent retreat. It was on a beautiful island not far from my home, and the center itself was gorgeous. There was a wonderful wood-burning sauna, cozy accomodation, good food, and a peaceful, outdoor labyrinth we could walk whenever we wanted.
There was a full moon that weekend - so walking the labyrinth was very special.
There was also a request from the organizers. There was a cabin on the property wherein burned a single candle. It was a small cabin with a wood-burning stove. There were blankets and pillows on the floor. We were asked to go there whenever we felt moved to. The one stipulation was that the candle, the room, was never to be left unattended. This meant that if you went there and took over from whomever was there, you couldn't leave until someone else arrived.
There was no organization. Just go when you want to, the person who was there would leave you alone.
I went up there one night around midnight, hoping to stay much of the night. Someone else arrived within the hour. I walked the labyrinth and then headed to bed. There was a small disappointment that I hadn't been able to stay longer.
The next day, there was a lot of turmoil around an incident. One participant had gone there - and no-one came to relieve her. She was angry. She felt overwhelmed by the responsibility of having to stay there. She was at the mercy of whenever someone would be moved to show up.
This story has stayed with me over the years, and today, while I was swimming, I was thinking about it.
That room, that candle, that watch is a metaphor for our lives together. Sometimes it is up to us alone to guard that which is precious. Sometimes we have to give it over to someone else to guard, even when we don't want to.
There is a bigger plan at work, and one we can't see. There is a reason one of us gets left alone for hours and hours, and another person can't seem to hold on to more than a few minutes of solitude.
There is a metaphor here.
We never know when it will be our turn to guard the light, or for how long, but we need to step up and do what is being asked of us for however long it is being asked.
We can't let the candle go out.
We can't let the fire burn down.
We just can't.