Two friends posted similar images. Pictures of ghost lights at theatres. One big, one small. One in Pittsburgh, one in Chicago. Theatres that are now closed due to coronavirus response measures. The images are hauntingly beautiful. The spaces may be empty, but the presence of the lights indicates hope.
In theatre, a ghost light is a single light bulb on a stand that remains illuminated when everyone is gone and everything else has been turned off. Contradictory superstitions say the light is to either appease or scare the ghosts, but the practical purpose is safety. The ghost light helps someone entering a darkened theatre find their way to the controls to turn on the main lights.
You don’t leave the ghost light on because you are leaving. You leave it on because you are coming back.
The COVID-19 pandemic has left many spaces bare of people. Pictures online look eerie and desolate. Empty train cars, empty sidewalks, empty buildings. But we will go back.
I think of the ghost lights at my office. The photographs and toys on the desk. The coffee mug on the shelf. The jars full of pens. All waiting for my eventual return.
What is your ghost light? A sweater left on the back of your chair? An unpunched timecard? A post-it note meant to remind you of something that will no longer matter when you finally see it again?
Maybe you perform a role that requires you to keep going into work. (Thank you.) What other places are you missing? A family member’s house? A favorite gathering place? Your ghosts lights are there.
Unfortunately some (too many) have lost or will lose their jobs during this crisis. What are their ghost lights? A check in the mail? A neighbor’s kindness? The proverbial light at the end of the tunnel? I hope they get one. I hope we all do.
As so many of us shelter-in-place, isolate, and quarantine, think of your ghost light, whatever it may be. Think of it shining brightly waiting for you. Remember we are doing this to ensure more people will be able to return to their lights. For now, we must be the lights for each other.
Think of the places we will return to. They are still there. Waiting for us. Empty but hopeful.