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. It’s part of a series of books I once read to my son. A lil story… 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 — it had all the things we think of as advanced. There was a massive lighthouse at Rutupiae, where Dover is now, and every night Roman Legionnaires tasked with protecting Britain lit it. They lit it mostly to guide ships, but the light also had symbolic function. As long as that light burned, Britain’s enemies knew Rome protected the country.
Unfortunately, this was during the decline of the Roman Empire. The glory days were long gone, and Rome had enemies of its own. Eventually, the troops were ordered to evacuate and left Britain at the mercy of the Saxons. Barbarians, the Saxons painted their faces blue, drank blood, pillaged, plundered, and enslaved. They were, like, bad. Without the Roman Legions, Britain was doomed.
There’s a story that goes that the night the Legions sailed for Rome, a small band of soldiers defected and decided to stay. 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 resist 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 a thud and — boom — finished. But it didn’t happen that way; it never happens that way. Throughout history empires have died slowly and often from the inside. Like cancer. And sometimes I walk through places that are like that. Places covered with tumors, but nobody’s saying anything. 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, many of us 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 engage, though we ourselves have no engagement. We sit passively and watch others live and yet we have no lives to speak of. For far too many, this is their reality, their Higher Power.
And almost no one cares to keep the light burning…
I am proud to be able to say I work with a group of people who can be rightfully called modern-day Lantern Bearers. They point out our social ills and offer solutions. They speak truth to power and rail against the darkness of ignorance. They chose long ago to stay behind and light the fire.
My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…