**This post originally ran in The Florida Times-Union https://www.jacksonville.com/story/opinion/columns/guest/2021/09/26/guest-column-light-on-but-no-one-home-lara-patangan/5762689001/
When I was growing up there weren’t as many medically-diagnosed acronyms to explain one’s differences as there are today. You might have been labeled “not the sharpest tool in the shed,” “the porch light is on but no one is home,” or if you are from the south, “their cornbread ain’t quite done in the middle,” might be an apt description for someone who’s a little bit different.
I do remember being in the reading group for “special kids.” I have since published a book so I figure that was either a really effective group or I was misplaced. It’s hard to know. I have often wondered if I had been tested by some fancy psychologist if I would have a diagnosis that would explain whether my own porch light is on — because honestly, sometimes I think my bulb is the flickering kind that serves to only draw attention to the cluster of dead bugs pooled at the bottom of the light fixture.
I intended to ask my doctor about my memory loss and lack of focus but in all honesty, I forgot. I met a friend for lunch and she whipped out a picture of herself wearing two different shoes to work and told me about how her husband left painter’s tape in their refrigerator. So, it’s not just me. Or maybe we dim-lightbulb types are drawn to each other like the bugs that spiral the light before drowning in its illumination.
All of this of course makes me think about mercy (and medical diagnoses but mostly mercy) because quite honestly, I have had enough diagnoses during the last year that I am kind of grateful I forgot to ask for another one. Part of the beauty of our faith has nothing to do with aesthetics. Instead, it’s the ability to empathize and relate to another person’s suffering despite their brokenness and despite ours too. Because of this, we feel less alone. We stop looking at our deficiencies as damaged and instead find the humor and humanity in them. We stop hiding our hurts and let other people sit with us in them. We stop judging and let shame surrender to “so-what.”
This isn’t just about the silly things we do (or forget to do) it’s about the way we prioritize what genuinely matters in life. It’s not about all the things we forget but about remembering that the gift of our presence can help others navigate a difficult time. As strange as this may sound, that matters more than mismatched shoes.
I’m not sure whether I would have been diagnosed with ADD or OCD or just as a BHM (Big Hot Mess). While I am curious to know, it’s not ever going to be how bright my metaphorically-speaking light bulb is that defines me. For all of us, that’s always going to be love.
Maybe it’s all as simple as the Motel 6 slogan, the chain of budget hotels that weren’t known for being fancy but rather, just enough. They had that folksy tagline that made everyone feel welcome: “we’ll leave the light on for you.”
When it comes to how to love our neighbor, dim lightbulb or not, it’s pretty wise advice.
Hi all ~ I still get frustrated with myself for all of the not-so-bright things I do (or mostly don’t do) in a day. It’s funny how much we can let insignificant things define our value. That’s why I love the simplicity of Jesus’s message to just love God and our neighbor. I’m far from perfect at either but at least the act of trying (and the acts of mercy!) make me feel more like a wise owl than the girl who just flew over the cuckoo’s nest! Can you relate?
P.S. ~ my birthday is tomorrow and I know you were probably not going to buy me a gift since you think I am so spiritual that I might find material items to be incredibly insignificant. Sadly, for my husband, this is not true and I had to order some things on his behalf so that he can still be a good husband to his still spiritually shallow enough wife that she wants actual presents to open on her birthday! BUT for the rest of you dear folks, I would be thrilled if you would leave a review for my book Simple Mercies on Amazon. Currently, I have 44 reviews and I would like to have at least as many as my age, which this year happens to be 110. So, as you can see I have a ways to go to reach my goal (and also that I have aged remarkably all things considered.) ~ Love and gratitude, the birthday girl