The Lighthouse

So I was walking on the beach this morning. And I was like 2 miles down, about as far as I’ve ever gone. I walk a lot further around town, but I don’t usually go far on the beach. It’s harder to walk on sand. And I can’t do phone calls because it’s too windy. Most of my longest walks are phone calls. So I'm not one of those people who says they like long walks on the beach. I like short walks on the beach, and long walks around town. 

So I was about 2 miles down, rounding the corner of the furthest part of the beach that you can see from where I started. I usually turn around when I get there, if I get there, which is rare. It feels natural to turn around once you get passed the furthest point you can see. But once you get passed that point, in this case, you can see a lighthouse.

The lighthouse is another half mile or so around the bend. That’s a bit of a ways when you’re walking on soft sand. It's even further when you know every step onward means another step back for your return. I’d considered it once or twice before -- going all the way to the lighthouse -- but I’d never done it. I’d only even gone as far as the bend a few times, maybe a handful. But today was the day. I decided I was going all the way.

When I got to the lighthouse, or almost there I should say, I came upon an unforeseen obstacle. The lighthouse was protected by a big row of rocks on the water side, and then a fescued dune on my right. I could have climbed over the rocks or through the dunes in around 20 seconds without much trouble if I wanted to, and I would have gone over the rocks out of respect for the dunes, but those obstacles were not the obstacles. The obstacles were the signs on the ropes hanging across both the rocks and the dunes which said “Please do not walk on the rocks” and “Please do not walk on the dunes”. So I had a choice to make. I had 4 options. 1. Walk on the rocks. 2. Walk on the dunes. 3. Turn around and go home. or 4. Retrace my steps back about 100 yards to a path that goes off the beach and into a parking lot from which I knew I could walk to the lighthouse. The fourth option was the most complicated of the bunch, and made for the longest walk overall. But it was the only option that did not involve giving up or breaking the rules. And that was the spark for this story.

Walking somewhere is like working toward something. Sometimes you work for a long time. Other times you give up fairly quickly. If you do go far, a common time to quit is when you get as far as you could have envisioned when you started. It’s rare to continue far beyond the furthest point you could see when you started your walk on the beach. But still, some do. Some pursue the lighthouse. But when you get there, or almost there, so close to "there" that most people would count it as there, there can often be obstacles. Very few people get to this point, and of those who do, some might try to take a shortcut. Many would just turn around. It is an easy negotiation to convince yourself that you've gone far enough, that it still counts. But you know what you meant when you went for the lighthouse. You meant all the way.

So here you are, with a dilemma most don’t go far enough to face. There are effectively 3 options if you combine the rocks and the dunes. 1. Take a shortcut by breaking the rules. 2. Turn around. or 3. Go the extra distance to get around the obstacle and reach the destination. So I stood there deliberating. And I really considered all three options. I justified the shortcut. These rules seem kind of dumb. I'll be through the rocks in no time. I justified just turning around. How much do I really care about reaching this lighthouse anyway? It was more of a casual objective than something serious. This could count.

But I realized this wasn’t about the lighthouse. This was about what kind of person I wanted to be. “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” So is doing things the right way, and doing the right thing. I walked back 100 yards and took the path off the beach. I walked through the parking lot and to the lighthouse. The final stretch was as pictured below, a glorious approach to my final destination. I touched the black door, and then the white wall, and walked all the way around it, counterclockwise, dragging my hand over the bricks as I did. I touched the door again, and then the handle, and headed home.

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