Insecurity affects people in different ways, from a simple annoyance to debilitating anxiety. It can be especially jarring when you were just there, doing your thing, and then, out of the blue, something rocks your confidence. Insecurity generally occurs when we compare ourselves to others, giving in to the ridiculous and constantly varying standards set by society.
The 1942 children’s book, “The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge,” by Hildegarde H. Swift and Lynd Ward, has been an inspiration to children around the world. Myself included. I learned to read very early because of this book but, for me, its influence was far more literacy. The story itself, one of self-worth and perseverance, was also something to which I gravitated.
“The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge,” is a simple story about a real lighthouse that sits on the banks of the Hudson River in New York City. As described in the book, “It was round and fat and red. It was fat and red and jolly. And it was very, very proud.”
Anthropomorphized in the story, the Lighthouse’s self-confidence stemmed from its own sense of importance in keeping boats safe along the river. Every night it flashed — one second on, two seconds off, with a big fog bell outside that clanged, “warning,” during bad weather.
The Lighthouse was originally built in 1889 as the North Hook Beacon, in Sandy Hook, New Jersey. In 1917, the lighthouse was shut down, but it wasn’t quite finished working yet. Four years later, it was moved to its current location in Manhattan’s North Washington Park in an effort to improve navigational support along the river.
Early in 1927, however, work began on the great span of the George Washington Bridge, directly behind the Lighthouse. By 1948 it was felt the bridge lighting overcast any need for the smaller light on the river and The Little Red Lighthouse was extinguished — seemingly forever.
Paralleled in the story, when the Lighthouse saw the large beam of light from atop the tower of the Great Gray Bridge, it was left feeling small, insignificant, and unimportant. At the same time, something had delayed the man who came every night to turn on the light. The Lighthouse felt abandoned and no longer needed.
Later, as a terrible storm came in, the Bridge called down, “Little Brother, where is your light?” The Bridge explained its duty to the ships of the air, but the Lighthouse was still important to safeguard the boats. Eventually, the caretaker arrived and turned on the gas, allowing the Lighthouse’s beam to shine brightly once more.
In reality, the Lighthouse was slated for demolition. But, in 1951, thanks to the popularity of the children’s book, an unprecedented public outcry to preserve The Little Red Lighthouse led the
U.S. Coast Guard to deed it to the New York Department of Parks and Recreation. Nearly three decades later, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places and eventually designated a protected landmark of New York City.
Now safe in the shadow of the Bridge, the Lighthouse story’s simple message of self-worth was one that has resonated with people for more than 70 years. We all need it to feel relevant and valued but anyone can suffer from insecurity at some point.
Like the Lighthouse, any of us can be unsure of our place in the world, comparing ourselves to those around us who seem bigger and better. Feeling irrelevant can be devastating.
That feeling, caused or fueled by deeply-rooted insecurity can sabotage the confidence of even the most self-assured person. And, sometimes we need a “Big Brother,” like the Bridge, or someone else we admire or respect to hold a mirror up for us so we can see our real value. That’s something my own Big Brother has done since I was very small, and, even as an adult, I still turn to him sometimes for that reassurance.
No matter how insignificant we may feel sometimes we all have something to offer. Just remember the courage of “The Little Red Lighthouse,” look for that one spark of inspiration, and, as the Bridge said to the Lighthouse, “let your light shine again.”