The weekend before her first day of college, Maisha moved into a small studio apartment on Sandrock Bay.
It was a nice, clean apartment, with brand new carpeting, and a large window that opened to a wide ocean. The perfect headquarters to begin her adult life. She had already decided upon her goal. She would change the world. Make it better.
The apartment itself wasn’t terribly remarkable. A bed occupied one bare corner. On one blank wall she hung a wrinkled poster of the planet Earth.
When afternoon transformed into dusk, and her few things had been neatly arranged, Maisha noticed that a dim, barely perceptible light periodically entered her room. It winked from a place very far away up on the headland enclosing Sandrock Bay.
She approached the open window and saw a distant lighthouse.
As darkness grew, the circling beam of light strengthened. It cast a single ray of power miles out over its circling sweep of silver ocean.
At night, as Maisha lay in bed thinking about her life ahead, and her big dream, that powerful beam whirled, passed over her window, shining through to the black wall that faced her, passing over the Earth. It was like the rising of many suns.
On Monday morning Maisha returned to the open window. She breathed in the cool ocean air and anticipated her first class.
Walking up Campus Way to school, it was difficult to keep her eyes from that faraway lighthouse. Even after sunrise, in broad daylight, its tiny light kept winking. It seemed odd to her that a lighthouse would operate in daylight.
The first day of classes passed.
Maisha sat alone at a table by a window in the school cafe. She tried to remember what she’d learned during several lectures. The complexity. The fog of human action. The formulas, suppositions, limits, conditions. The outlines, demands, divisions and conflicts. The history, the hatred, the avarice, the vanity. The cruel truths of the world. The impossibility of soul. Theorems uttered by unconcerned professors.
And in that darkening shadow of near hopelessness, her eyes were drawn again to the lighthouse.
How did it shine for miles? she wondered.
What was its secret?
Slowly she remembered . . .
When she was a very little girl, and all the world was completely new, she and her parents had visited a lighthouse–another old lighthouse that stood at the end of another headland . . . overlooking a dim place . . . an elsewhere she had nearly forgotten . . .
She tried to see it.
She remembered being inside that narrow lighthouse, climbing circular stairs up and up and up . . . right up to an enormous shining lens.
The lens had appeared to her surprised eyes like an enormous diamond, finely cut and polished and infused with a heart of light.
Her parents had explained that the radiance of a single candle was refracted by the lens into a single powerful beam that could be seen for miles out at sea.
Saving countless lives.
As she sat at the table remembering, she suddenly wondered: would it be possible to change the world by refracting light from her own heart?
Could she shine her heart’s light through a jeweled lens, focus it, and send a beam of saving power beyond her small horizon?
Resolute, she was determined to ask the silly question of everyone in the cafe. “How do you refract a heart’s light?”
Maisha turned to address a student who sat at the nearby table.
A laugh. “You’re joking, right?”
Maisha turned to the table on her other side, where several students sat eating and staring into phones.
“How do you refract a heart’s light?” she asked the first student who looked up.
“You know, that’s really a weird question. Is it possible to refract what–a heart’s light? That’s literally impossible. You bend light, not a heart’s light. What exactly do you mean by a heart’s light?”
“I think I see what she means,” interjected another student. “Can you bend your soul or spirit or something and shine it around a corner–is that what you mean? The heart light you’re talking about can do anything you wish. It’s like poetry–a heart light can shine anywhere. You could pass it through a metaphysical prism and make rainbows, even.”
The final student laughed. “Oh come on, be serious. Metaphysical rainbows. The fact is nobody can ever escape from the Laws of Physics. If by heart’s light you mean something like love or compassion, then you have to bend it with something that actually works. But compassion isn’t a physical thing. So I don’t really know how you would do that. Is it possible to refract a heart’s light? I mean, really, why would you want to refract that? I’ve never heard a more stupid question.”
“Thank you,” said Maisha, turning back to her cold food.
When she had finished eating, Maisha quickly jumped up and crossed the school’s cafe to throw away the garbage that remained on her plastic tray. She had never felt so alone.
“It’s possible,” said a small voice behind her.
An old man with severely stooped shoulders was busy mopping the dirty floor. His mop worked in small steady circles. He looked up at her. His faraway eyes shined with knowledge. “It’s possible,” he said quietly.
“But how?” begged Maisha. “How? All I have is my one candle. How do I cut and polish the refracting lens?”
“You’ll work it out. Simply keep that candle lit.”