Susan's Thursday morning note November 17, 2022
The Lamplighter by Maria Cummins
Prayer, Heaven, Goodness, Forgiveness
Good morning! Silence except clicking of the keyboard. Deep black behind the curtains. My angel of dawn peering with a small lantern through the window encouraging me to enter this cold day. An old worn book open beside me with friends inside. The Lamplighter by Maria Cummins. There is an inscription in the front from a teacher to her student, published originally in 1854. I just found out that this book was the second best seller of the 19th century behind Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
I was enamored since page one, this being one of the few books that as you read you are thinking, “I wish this one never ended and was always by my bed stand.” Here are some of the lines I’ve underlined for you of a little orphaned girl’s first years. The book continues into her maturity into adulthood.
“…had she had a mother, those friendly eyes would have found something in her to praise. But the poor little thing was told, a dozen times a-day, that she was the worst-looking child in the world, and the worst-behaved. No one loved her, and she loved no one; no one tried to make her happy, or cared whether she was so. She was but eight years old, and alone in the world. She loved to watch for the coming of the old man who lit the street-lamp in front of the house where she lived; to see his bright torch flicker in the wind; and then when he so quickly ran up his ladder, lit the lamp, and made the place cheerful, a gleam of joy was shed on a little desolate heart, to which gladness was a stranger; and though he had never seemed to see, and had never spoken to her, she felt, as she watched for the old lamp-lighter, as if he were a friend.”
(scene later in the evening after being put into garret for an accidental spill of milk)……”She wept until she was exhausted; and then gradually she became still. By-and-by she took her hands from her face, clasped them together convulsively, and looked up at a little glazed window near the bed. It was but three panes of glass unevenly stuck together. There was no moon; but as Gerty looked up, she saw shining upon her one bright star. She thought she had never seen anything half so beautiful. She had often been out of doors when the sky was full of stars, and had not noticed them much; but this one, all alone, so large, so bright, and yet so soft and pleasant-looking, seemed to speak to her; to say, “Gerty! Gerty! poor little Gerty!” She thought it seemed like a kind face, such as she had a long time ago seen or dreamt about. Suddenly she asked herself, “Who lit it? Somebody lit it! Some good person, I know. Oh! how could he get up so high? And Gerty fell asleep, wondering who lit the star.”
Gerty was later kicked out of her home and the lamplighter had witnessed the beating and found the young child alone on the street. Not knowing what to do, he took her home for the evening. This scene is after he gave her his own meager meal, warm milk, and put her into his bed. “Tears are in Trueman Flint’s eyes; he lays his great head on the pillow and draws Gerty’s little face close to his; at the same time smoothing her long, uncombed hair with his hand. He, too, is thinking aloud – what does he say? “Catch you! – no, she shan’t! Stay with me! – so you shall, I promise you, poor little birdie! All alone in this big world – and so am I. Please God, we’ll bide together.”
Gerty is then taught by other main characters her first lessons on the concept of God, prayer, heaven, goodness, forgiveness. She had never heard of the concept of God, prayer, heaven. After a scene which the lamplighter, True, and a young boy explaining in his childish, clear description the main attributes of God, the following scene takes place with Gerty alone in her room. “All the information that Gerty could gain amounted to the knowledge of these facts: that God was in heaven: that His power was great; and that people were made better by prayer. But her mind was so intent upon the subject, that the thought even of sleeping in her new room could not efface it. After she had gone to bed…she lay for a long time with her eyes wide open. Just at the foot of the bed was the window. The sky was bright with stars; and they revived her old wonder and curiosity as to the Author of such distant and brilliant lights. As she gazed, there darted through her mind a thought, “God lit them! Oh, how great He must be! But a child might pray to Him!” She rose from her little bed, approached the window, and falling on her knees and clasping her hands precisely in the attitude of Samuel, she looked up to heaven. She spoke no word, but her eyes glistened with a tear that stood in each. Was not each tear a prayer? She breathed no petition, but she longed for God and virtue. Was not that very wish a prayer? Her little uplifted heart throbbed vehemently. Was not each throb a prayer? And did not God in heaven, without whom not a sparrow falls to the ground, hear and accept that first homage of a little, untaught child: and did it not call a blessing down?”
What a beautiful scene. There is something so comforting in seeing the little hands of a child folded in earnest prayer. Thank you so much for letting me write for you again today. And, thank you always for the great books you’re bringing in for our used bookstore. If you only knew how many want to end up in my car that I try to not make eye contact with! Tonight we will have another chance to write on our epitaph…write on the gift of the moments today. Will we have something worthy to write? Of our thoughts, our mindset, our reflection, our reading, our choices for what we talk about? Regardless of if it’s an easy time of life, or difficult, we are given the gift of today. Of watching the earth given rest during these cold months. We are all given this gift. As an extra beauty to our day, or as a sign to help cope if all seems bleak.
We are here…so what will we do with this gift called time and life? And, the beauty of this is even when we don’t notice the gift…we will have the opportunity to start again with the chance to notice. To notice that our angel of dawn arrived in each home offering the chance to look to the heavens today and to the stars tonight. To realize they are lit by our Creator who lit the stars for us.
Thank you for letting me again enter your Thursday. Thank you for helping us have our beautiful store. I hope I’m there when you come by, but if I’m not, know that I hope you experience a reprieve from your reality, that you can relax, and that you leave the store feeling a little bit better than when you entered our world. Susan
Latin for this week:
astra - star
Deus lux Mea - God is my light.
Aduro (adustum) - To set fire to, burn, singe, kindle, light
Adspicit lucem in calestis - Seeking light in heaven.
Cummins, Maria. The Lamplighter. Chicago. M.A. Donohue & Co. Undated Edition. (Originally published in 1854).