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Saturday, October 15, 2016

LET THERE BE LIGHTS

George and I didn’t fight often, and we didn’t fight about many things. We did fight about the lights.

He thought I should turn them off when I left the room. I thought I should leave them on—in case I came back later. He said leaving on the lights wasted electricity. I said light-filled windows cast a friendly glow that made our home smile in defiance of a sun-quenched sky. Sometimes he followed me around just to flip the switches off. It was not beneath me to circle back around and defiantly return them to their brightful position.

As much as I loved lights, I hated buying light bulbs. George regularly added them to the grocery list. I conveniently ‘forgot’ to buy them. I seldom saw a need. The lights were always working as far as I could tell, but he would insist and sometimes go with me to the store in order to stock up. I am sure George was quite aware that my refusal to buy bulbs was illogical and inconsistent with my insistence in leaving them on. He was wise enough never to point it out.

I could never figure out which bulbs to buy. Bulbs come with different bases, different shapes, different watts, and different hues. The selection of just one pack of bulbs took more time than picking out produce for a week—and did nothing for family nutrition. 

The cost wreaked havoc on a kid-friendly food budget and made me feel I couldn’t afford sacred purchases like Milano Mints. Then there was the challenge of getting them home—unbroken. They couldn’t be packed at the bottom of the bag where they would certainly lose if they jockeyed for space with peanut butter.  They couldn’t be too close to the top where they might take a suicidal tumble to the parking lot below.

As suddenly as George was gone, the struggle over lights and light bulbs ended. I stopped turning out lights because I seldom turned them on. I stopped buying light bulbs because I had no need.

The house wasn’t totally dark as long as I had houseguests and people who lived with me. But once they were gone, and all switches were under my sole control, the house settled into comfortable twilight, only enjoying reprieve when the sun extended mercy through partially curtained windows. When a lamp burned out, I used another lamp until that too was gone, and I either sat in darkness or moved on to another room. Overhead fixtures with multiple bulbs grew dimmer by 60 watts at a time until they gave up entirely.  I often used the flashlight on my cell phone so I could see where I was going.

I cannot explain why I didn’t see the growing darkness, anymore than I can explain why one night I had a startled recognition, “It is really dark in here and none of the lights work anymore.” My first thought—unfortunately this is true—was that I would have to do something about the lights before Christmas. By the next morning, I knew I had to do something immediately. One ladder, two hours and more light bulbs than I knew we had stashed away and once again I could turn on lights—if or when I wanted to.

The lights took matters into their own hands a few weeks later. I installed timers before an out of town trip—hoping to make my absence less apparent—and forgot to turn them off on my return. When my alarm rang the first morning back, the bedside light came on, even before I reached for the switch. Stumbling toward the kitchen for coffee, I saw warm lights anticipated my appearance. With utmost consideration, they humbly turned themselves off before I headed off to work. When I arrived home after dark, they were waiting cheerfully for my arrival. I have chosen to let the lights have their way.

I have discovered it takes light to find my way back to life. And when I am too tired or sad or out-of-touch to turn them on myself, it’s nice when they can lead the way. I am setting up those safeguards for myself.

I am belatedly apologetic to the man I took for granted when he kept the lights lit all those years. I get it now—the reason he always needed more bulbs. It is the price we pay when we insist, “Let there be lights.”