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The Rutupiae Light
“We are the lantern bearers, my friend; for us to keep something burning, to carry what light we can forward against the darkness and the wind.”
— Rosemary Sutclif, The Lantern Bearers
Out of all places, I got this from a children’s book, part of a series. A lil story, children… have you ever heard the story of Rutupiae Light?
Roman Britain in the fourth century was one of the most civilized places in the world. Culture, literacy, medicine, social rights — all the things we think of as advanced. There was a huge lighthouse at Rutupiae, where Dover is now, and every night they lit it. Mostly to guide ships, but it was also symbolic. As long as that lighthouse burned, Britain’s enemies knew Rome protected the country.
But this was during the decline of Roman Empire. The glory days were long gone, and they had enemies of their own. Eventually, they ordered their troops out and left Britain at the mercy of the Saxons. Barbarians, the Saxons painted their faces blue, drank blood, raided, raped, and enslaved. They were that bad. Without the Roman Legions, Britain was doomed.
There’s a story that goes that the night the Legions sailed for Rome, a group of soldiers deserted. It was certain suicide. They were vastly outnumbered and had no chance of winning. But they stayed and they lit the Rutupiae Light.
Now one may say that it was foolish. How long could they fool the Saxons? Why stay behind and die to keep a light going for a night or two.
That’s one way to look at it. Another is that faced with the end of a dream, they chose to stay and fight and to hold the darkness back. Even if only for a night or two. You know what they were called. They were called the Lantern Bearers.
People talk about the “fall of Rome” as if it happened in one day. Like one day, there was this thud and — boom – finished. But it didn’t happen that way; it never happens that way. Throughout history empires have died slow and from the inside. Like cancer. And sometimes I walk through places that are like that. Places covered with tumors, but nobody’s looking. As a society we have accepted leaders that run on a platforms that profess to hate government and a government that hates itself can’t be any good. In place of The Great Society, we have built prisons. In place of culture, literacy, and freedom we have allowed and even encouraged a society predicated on enslavement and ignorance and we turn and blame the very victims of these policies.
And while this dismantling goes apace, we sit and entertain ourselves to death with fiction posing as reality. We sit, solitary figures, before the blinking light of the TV and watch others date, though we ourselves have no dates. We sit passively and watch others live and yet we have no lives to speak of. That is our reality, our God.
And almost no one cares to keep the light burning…