Books, The Inner Landscape

“To the Lighthouse”

While at camp I read Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. How an English major managed to read so little Woolf as a young person is a mystery. But perhaps she is better read by a person in the 40’s anyway. This quote from the dinner party scene spoke to me:

Nothing seemed
to have merged. They all sat separate. And the whole of the effort
of merging and flowing and creating rested on her. Again she felt,
as a fact without hostility, the sterility of men, for if she did
not do it nobody would do it, and so, giving herself a little shake
that one gives a watch that has stopped, the old familiar pulse
began beating, as the watch begins ticking—one, two, three,
one, two, three. And so on and so on, she repeated, listening to
it, sheltering and fostering the still feeble pulse as one might
guard a weak flame with a news-paper
. And so then, she concluded,
addressing herself by bending silently in his direction to William
Bankes—poor man! who had no wife, and no children and dined
alone in lodgings except for tonight; and in pity for him, life
being now strong enough to bear her on again, she began all this
business, as a sailor not without weariness sees the wind fill his
sail and yet hardly wants to be off again and thinks how, had the
ship sunk, he would have whirled round and round and found rest on
the floor of the sea

How often do I feel the responsibility to keep the pulse going? Much too often, I fear. There have been too many times I have found myself at the head of one table or another, neck quite literally stiffening with the effort required to hold up my Big Giant Head. Perhaps I need to do a little less minding of the collective pulse and a little more caring for the personal. There are many commitments in my professional life that require me to do the former, and I have determined to let them end in their natural course, as soon as possible. It’s time to clarify which things really require ME and which simply require SOMEONE. As a painter stands back to gain perspective, I too will seek a vision for the next portion of my life.

13 thoughts on ““To the Lighthouse””

  1. I have not read any of Woolf’s books – however, I can see that this excerpt is dense and I would have had a hard time reading it in my 20s (well even now). I hear it is a short book, but by the looks of what you have shared, it is a full book.
    In terms of what you have written in reflection of who you are, I think so many of us are in the same boat, but are at different points in the journey. Lots to think about and pray about.

  2. I read a lot of Virginia Woolf when I was in my 20’s. But I wonder if I got her? If she spoke to me then as she might now?…
    I hope you are able, and I’m sure you will be, of finding the course, the way, and navigating it!

  3. I presented my first scholarly paper on To the Lighthouse when I was 23. I’m glad I can’t find the paper now; I’m sure it would cause me to spontaneously combust in humiliation.
    I don’t think most people in their 20’s CAN read Woolf very intelligently.
    I’m so glad I’m not the only one with a Big Giant Head. My therapist talks with me about the terrific amount of work my poor neck has to do, holding up the world every day.

  4. The thing I have learned–and am risking forgetting right now–is that what I most neglect when I am intent on being the Big Giant Head is my body. Learning to shift the balance is so difficult. And essential. I’m glad you are back friend…thank you.

  5. I guess I’m both glad and sorry to hear that others know what this feels like.
    At camp I mostly did NOT feel this way, with the exception of one meal during the counselor training period, when I somehow convinced myself I was responsible for dinner conversation. I got over it the moment I felt my neck clenching.
    In the areas where I MUST lead, I need to work on finding a new way to do it.

  6. I’m so glad you’re back!
    I love the way you framed your issue: “to clarify which things require ME and which things simply require SOMEONE.” So difficult, and so necessary. One of the things I am learning, sometimes painfully, is how few things really require ME — very, very few, most of them quite intimate and not very important to the rest of the world.

  7. Glad to hear I’m not alone. I’m going through one of those situations right now – feeling as if everyone else is drifting off leaving me to either dig in or give up. After having been left holding the bag many times before, this is one situation I can’t take on by default.
    The problem, Songbird, is we’re both peacemakers and peacekeepers, and people come to expect us to solve all the problems. Still, I’d rather be a peacemaker than a troublemaker.


  9. I read To the Lighthouse as a sr. in high school. The teacher made us read it twice. The first time we all hated it. After the second time, it was our favorite book. For a little while after that, all of my sentences were a paragraph long. It’s been a while since I’ve read any Woolf. Somewhere I’ve got a great little story about her. If I find it, I’ll post it.

Leave a Reply