Lights, ceilings, and a new year

Though I don’t look much like a judge and wasn’t the brightest light to ever sit a bench and wield a gavel, I was not so dim as some.

To be in court and see an image such as reflected by the Chancery Judge in Charles Dickens’ Bleak House with “foggy glory ’round his head” peering, “into a lantern that has no light in it” is to be avoided. If you do catch such a glimpse, best to keep it to yourself during the brief time it hopefully takes you to get elsewhere.

The worst are content to subsist in the limitations of their minimal glow, not seeing or engaging in any reflections. Better, I thought, to project my glow — limited though it was — in order to observe the truer image invariably reflected.

For 24 years I wielded a gavel never striking it once except for the day I retired — using it, at last, to bring my own case to a close. Though some would characterize my results as mixed, I did my best to be respectful and fair.

I sometimes worked with human complexities beyond my ability to empathize and in that process revealed my limitations. But my role often involved working with those far different from me, people directed by guideposts I never had to follow. I learned more about travel from them than they ever learned from me. Though I wore a hearing aid and corrective lenses both could be removed and were, when a quieter, myopic place, was temporarily required.

It was not for me to sanction the only unique thing many possessed, the light that guided them; rather, I endeavored to promote their ability to have their light shine brighter. I never presumed to pass judgement on another’s essence, only provide an adjudication relevant to a legal or factual situation.

Though I’m not particularly religious, at my age it’s prudent to have a plan — many religious tenets I try to follow. One is verse 70 of the Gospel of the Apostle Thomas. As translated by Jesuit Prof. George MacRae, a former dean of Harvard Divinity School, Jesus is reported to have said:

“If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”

The Gospel of Thomas, was written during the same era as those of his fellow apostles: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John but unlike theirs his gospel was not included in the New Testament canon. Some scholars speculate the reason may have been political. Thomas’s gospel promoted the concept that God’s light can shine in everyone. There were religious leaders at the time who discouraged the idea of divinity being independently, spontaneously expressed in a human condition. They promoted instead the need for intermediaries, such as themselves, to judge a path as proper.

At a recent assembly of my grandson and granddaughter’s primary school, they sang an old favorite:

” This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.

This little light of mine — let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!”

There it was, the Gospel’s admonition, being well sung!

But after the song’s uplifting conclusion, the school’s principal had to set a down beat. It seems some person or persons were wadding up toilet paper, wetting it, then casting it up on the bathroom ceiling where it was sticking. Housekeeping had complained.

To a now subdued, somber assembly, the principal condemned such conduct as contrary to the high standards expected of students of that school. A condemnation I thought was well expressed for it was not directed to any specific person or group but rather to all people who may be using the boy’s bathroom.

This New Year, may your light shine — through any ceiling.

Doug Pugh’s Vignettes run bi-weekly on Tuesdays. He can be reached via email at