May I take you on a tour of our homes—yours and mine? Although we’ve never crossed one another’s thresholds, we’ve been there, at least if you live in America. Take the tour with me. You enter through the front door. On one side is the living room, on the other sits the dining room. If you’re left-handed, as am I, the dining room is on the left and the living room is on the right.
The living room looks exactly like it did the day the movers dropped off your furniture. It might as well be cordoned off with red velvet rope and polished brass stanchions. It reminds me of taking the tour of Independence Hall, seeing the quill pen right where Mr. Hancock left it. Nothing has been disturbed.
We don’t use our living room. We vacuum and dust, just like everyone does. We didn’t use it when I was young; I’m starting to think it might be a better spot for a hot tub.
Opposite the living room is the dining room. One or two brass chandeliers, depending on your tastes. Oriental rug, side board, hutch. Ask a thief about the rest—bone china, a velvet lined box of silver dinner wear. Candlesticks. Hand cut lead crystal. Linens; tablecloth and napkins. That sort of covers it.
If your family is at all like mine, when the dining room isn’t being used for folding laundry, building 1,000 piece puzzles, or tax preparation, it is used for high holidays, proms, weddings and funerals.
We have a set of china I bought from England on eBay that is more translucent that Saran wrap. We’ve probably used it a half dozen times. It’s for those special occasions—like the passage of the healthcare reform bill.
Eight years ago this Thanksgiving I was sitting on the floor of the dining room, inspecting the dishes and silverware when I came upon an unopened box of off-white tapered candles that was tucked away under the starched Egyptian cotton linens.
It gave me pause. The receipt was taped to the box—purchased five years ago. Why? In case we needed them. In case there was an occasion so special as to warrant candles, better yet, candles in the dining room, with the china and lead crystal. (Sounds a little like Colonel Mustard in the dining room with the lead pipe.)
At the rate we were going, the candles and china were so well preserved so as to survive an archeological dig in the year 3,000. What is the correct candle lighting threshold? What is yours?
I almost never had the chance to learn mine. Less than two weeks after that Thanksgiving, while watching an episode of the Sopranos, I had difficulty breathing, a lot of difficulty. Collapsing to the floor while trying to convince my wife I was fine was enough to get her to call for an ambulance. I was having a heart attack.
Less we be distracted, these few paragraphs are about the candles, not the heart attack. These days we burn the candles, stain the linens, and break the crystal and the china.
I used to think, wouldn’t it be neat if, or if I had the chance for a do-over I’d like to be. How cool would it be to have been Ted Kennedy or Paul Newman? Celebrity. Impacting world events. Able to pay John Edwards money for a haircut. Why not want that?
One reason. Each of us has the ability to choose to complain about tomorrow, an ability Messieurs Newman and Kennedy no longer have. Too hot, too cold, too busy, too bored. The question is, do we also have the smarts, the God-given wisdom, not to complain but just to be grateful for being.
I also had cancer twenty years ago. I have vivid memories of wishing I was caught in traffic jam on I-75 in Dallas, yet I’m the same guy who often finds himself a nanosecond away from having a news helicopter filming my traffic road-rage. My moments of clarity wax and wane as I’m sure do yours.
It’s difficult if not impossible to see your candles as you lie strapped to a gurney in the back of an ambulance.
I’ve been fortunate to have met some really special people on the Internet. Smart people, generous people, people willing to share ideas diametrically opposed to mine. People caught up in their lives and the lives of others. People who in an awkward moment would think it might be great to trade their lot for that of another. People who’d rather save their candles for a more important occasion.
No occasion will ever be any more important than the occasion of having tomorrow. Let’s agree to light a lot of candles this year.
Warm regards, Paul