Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

the candle and the mirror

candle in mirror

There are two ways of spreading light:
to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.
Edith Wharton

When I was young, and my dreams as new-bright as clean copper, I believed I would set the world on fire. Somehow I would change what was wrong — poverty, ignorance, social injustice. There were, after all, so many of us who thought that. Surely we couldn’t fail.


So the fire of the candle — its yellow-white & blue light — lit those dreams brightly. Truth and justice would fill me, I was certain, and I would burn a path of justice through my time.

It hasn’t worked like that. :)

Teachers — and writers, really — aren’t candles. Sometimes we’re not even very good mirrors. But at our best (& luckiest), we reflect brightly the flames within our students. Our friends. Our readers. These days, I am trying every day to be a mirror.

There is little as satisfying as showing someone s/he can write. That within them are the words to tell an important, dearly cherished story. Often someone arrives in a class of mine — and this has happened as far back as my first teaching, more than 30 years ago — convinced they can do nothing well. Certainly not write. From pre-schoolers who can’t string macaroni to 94-year-old women who worry that their poetry is boring, fear of failure knows no age. And yet I’ve never met anyone who wants to learn — who wants to write — who can’t. It’s just a matter of desire, practice, and reflection.

You do need a mirror, however. To show you how brightly the flame you carry inside can burn. How brightly all our candles burn. And I’m here for that. Perfectly happy, these days, not to have blazed a flaming path. Perfectly happy to be just a mirror, spreading light.

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