My candle burns at both ends
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends –
It gives a lovely light.
The news of Whitney Houston’s recent death struck a chord with millions of people, perhaps most particularly those who grew up with her music punctuating important stages of their lives. As I read and listened to the details of her life, the ups and downs, triumphs and challenges, I thought of the poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay – “my candle burns at both ends, it will not last the night”. The image of the candle burning so brightly seems to be particularly fitting in this instance. The light that shines from even a small candle can light up the darkest of spaces – and yet candles, and particularly the light they emit, are fragile. Unlike, say, a klieg light, which shines into the night skies and which is large and robust, a candle can easily be snuffed out by the merest whoosh of a breath.
Thus is seems that a candle is a fitting symbol of our own fragile existence. “Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more.” in the words of another poet, William Shakespeare. And so it is we each inhabit a brief hour upon the stage of life.
The image of the candle begs the question – how then do we spend our time upon this earth? While it could be said that Whitney Houston, and others like her, were reckless with the lives they led – there is also something to be said for burning the candle and both ends – for embracing life to its fullest and letting our lights shine brightly forth.
No human life is without its incongruities – Ms Houston struggled with addictions and spousal abuse, even as her music soared to new heights and touched the hearts of millions. As I often tell my clients, no one wants the words “I played it safe” on their tombstone. There are no gold stars given at the end of the day for not taking any risks.
So while I am certainly not downplaying Ms Houston’s challenges and the sadness in recognizing that these contributed to her untimely death, I am suggesting that we take a moment to consider how we are living our own lives. Are we taking appropriate risks or are we backing away in fear of the unknown? Are we embracing opportunities or are we living timidly, trying to avoid pain at all costs?
The answers to these questions are not easy to find and may require some soul searching – but it is worth the effort, nonetheless. My hope is that you will find a way to allow your light to shine brightly and thus touch the lives of those whom you know and love.