By Natalie Olmsted, Blogger of the Month for July 2015
I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the community, and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. Life is no ‘brief candle’ for me. It is a sort of splendid torch, which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it to the future generations. – George Bernard Shaw
I tend to follow the light of women. It’s not that their flames are necessarily higher or brighter, but it seems their flames tend to shimmer with a vitality and commitment to which I am drawn, whether crackling with boldness or whispering with calm. I strive to appreciate the light each of us carries, be it flaming torch or steady candle, yet at times I find I do not truly comprehend the significance of these light bearers until they are gone and the fires of those whose paths they helped to brighten rise in unison, blinding us.
The fires were bright in the month of June. Our Wichita community lost a blaze of a woman in Tanya Tandoc, and my family lost the gentle flicker of our Aunt Doris. The two women could not have been more different: one bold — like a mad fire baton twirler, she wielded her torch — and the other soft-spoken and gentle, yet steadily bearing her light. Each of them purposefully illuminated the paths of others through their acts of selflessness, compassion, unconditional love, and in the way they chose to live.
I only knew of Tanya, meeting her only once or twice and never having the opportunity to share stories or secrets over a KMUW coffee mug brimming with wine. But her flame could not be ignored, especially since she shared its brilliance with so many in our community. The manner in which she helped others spark their own blazes was breathtaking, like she was fending off the enemy, brandishing her torch with all her might to ensure those she believed in and loved were able to carry their light high above their heads. And when those lights faltered even for a second, she was there. I’d hoped to one day share in her effervescence, and as I type, I realize I have and will through the web of women she heartened.
The gentle flame of my Aunt Doris also lit paths and provided hope. Hers was an unwavering light for her sons, her grandchildren, and for many of us who admired her serene strength. She judged none and loved unconditionally, which some saw as a weak or naïve, blind to the ever-present glow of her taper. When she lost one of her sons at an early age, her light wavered but a moment before strengthening in its intensity. Her light was steadfast and comforting, like a familiar nightlight at the end of a dark hall, a lone lantern during a Kansas storm.
There are moments I can feel a weight bearing upon my hand, a heat radiating upon my skin, and know it is my own light. I feel it best when I am providing encouragement, listening with intent to the once unspoken dreams of another, enfolding another in a deep hug after offering advice, or just wholly giving love. It is in those moments I feel the shine of many lights, even those of torches once thought extinguished, because I believe, unlike Mr. Shaw, that we never hand off our torches. Once we have helped to kindle the flame of another or ensure their light endures or brightens, we forever illuminate.
Tanya and Aunt Doris will continue to light our paths because they shared their flames, their life evident in the glimmer of so many. Their torches, their candles, shine upon us, always. It is up to us, each in our own way, to illuminate the paths of others, because only then will our own splendid torch find its purpose, and only then will we carry forth the legacies of those who brightened our paths and helped us to shine.
Natalie Olmsted is a native Kansan and advocate for her hometown of Wichita. Her blog, Mermaid of the Plains, touches on life in the ICT and her love of family, sports, Wichita State University, bicycles, and beer (not necessarily in that order). When she isn’t working at WSU or cheering at Shocker basketball games, you can find her riding her cruiser bicycle in the Delano District, sipping a craft beer at The Anchor, or sitting with her husband beneath their “Lantern Therapy Tree.” She has published two short stories from her collection, The North End, and is working on two novels. And yes, she often thinks of herself as a mermaid, albeit a little landlocked.