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The Lighthouse

Although the macabre and the monstrous are more obviously and immediately interesting, there are some more hopeful phenomena that deserve - if not demand - our attention.


There are certain times and certain hours - particularly and especially in the dead of night - which are mostly familiar to the restless and to those who suffer from chronic insomnia. These strange and sleepless whiles are largely peopled with unwilling natives, their exhaustion and their isolation making them more prone to noticing (and more open to accepting) the things that shy away from the bustle and the busyness of the waking world. Some of these things are dangerous, some are even deadly, but there are other impossible things that make these liminal, ever-so-slightly unreal spaces their homes out of an earnest need for the privacy and secrecy which are on offer.

The Lighthouse, which is known to have been observed scores of times in towns and cities across the world over the last fifteen hundred years, is one example: A beacon that - despite its dazzling brightness - seems to only be visible to the walking wounded, to the peripatetic psychic casualties who are in need of the unreliable relief it can provide. Functioning as the inverse of its namesake landmark, it exerts a pull on anyone able to see it, drawing them in with the immediate novelty of a new and unfamiliar presence in the skyline. There is an urge to investigate it, the almost-hypnotic suggestion that it holds a significance and a purpose.

Records suggest that The Lighthouse began to appear in forms more situationally appropriate to its locales and stations sometime in the eighteenth century (although the preceding centuries had already seen its name set and fixed). A strange effort in discretion, perhaps, given that it only seems to be perceptible to those in need of its particular and peculiar respite. Nevertheless, and though it might seem far away - a distinct but somewhat distant fixture nestled into its surroundings - those following the compulsion to seek The Lighthouse out will find themselves in front of its invitingly open and well-lit doors in a matter of minutes; even if their route and location are rendered retroactively hazy.

Proximity does nothing to undercut whatever architecturally-appropriate guise The Lighthouse has presented itself with. The façade holds comfortably accurate, even to the touch, and insinuates itself into its environs closely enough to match the age and accompanying patina of the surrounding buildings. Nonetheless, at this point hesitation is common, and retreat far from unheard of. The waves of placid calm that emanate from The Lighthouse can be unnerving, even alien to those to whom it beckons; to those suffering from chronic anguish and in the throes of the most extreme distress. Most press on though, persevere through the nervousness of trespass, and walk into the soft but uncertain balms of the light.

What greets someone within the interior of The Lighthouse has changed gradually over time (though not as dramatically as the chameleonic exterior), and seems to shape itself somewhat around the biases and expectations of those who cross the threshold. The layout is always clean and clinical: Uncluttered corridors daubed in reassuringly warm palettes and branching off into a number of individual, uniquely designed suites. Each of these seems to have an intended occupant - most will already be in use - and, led by same impulses that brought someone to The Lighthouse in the first place, instinct will guide them to the room that was planned and created for them.

Though the furnishings of these rooms are rather generic, taken from a limited selection of non-descript pieces, they are deliberately arranged to evoke specific and individual memories: A reassuringly comfortable and comforting echo (almost subliminal in its subtlety) of somewhere that the occupant was happy, of somewhere that they felt safe. In the ease of a space that is intended to feel like and function as a sanctuary, the brief wait that follows feels like a respite. Every pang and pain that was felt outside The Lighthouse is dulled and distant, psychically anaesthetised and detached from the immediate experience of simply being and, having accepted this temporary peace of mind as a first step, a clinician enters the room.

It is during the ensuing dialogue that the nature and purpose of The Lighthouse are addressed (though how deeply and directly depends on the extent to which a given visitor requires this information in order to accept the help being offered). It is, in essence, an autonomous psychiatric facility: A self-triaging field hospital that -through means and mechanisms beyond our current comprehension - can appear anywhere in the world, and only be visible to those of suitable and sufficient need. The only questions that are not answered, even obliquely, are those concerning other about other visitors to The Lighthouse. These are politely rebuffed on the expected grounds; the lives of other patients are private and privileged.

Once a visitor has had their queries and concerns addressed and understood, to the best efforts of both parties, the word ‘patient’ seems to become the most apposite. Despite operating for such a phenomenal length of time, The Lighthouse has only ever offered only one course of treatment. The intervention - significantly bolstered by a more subtle but sustained exertion of whatever manner of influence drew the patient in - is what we would now call psychotherapy. Only a few hours might pass in the world outside, the single session is always over by the coming dawn, but months and months of intensive work and reflection are folded into an infinitesimal fraction of the time.

Patients do not leave cured; many of the conditions that The Lighthouse addresses are lifelong afflictions, but almost everyone who has spoken of their experiences attested to a marked and lasting improvement to their mental health. There are few, more detailed descriptions of the clinicians and the treatments, perhaps a side-effect of the temporal compression within facility itself and while some see this a dangerous sign - a suggestion of a more insidious or invasive influence - ex-patients tend not to see the vagueness of those memories as noteworthy, let alone worrisome. There is clearly much we can and much we need to learn about The Lighthouse but, in the meantime, we should be glad of its existence.


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