May I take you on a tour of my home? You enter through the front door. On the right is the living room, on the left sits the dining room.
The living room looks exactly like it did the day the movers dropped off the 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 over the years.
We don’t use our living room. We vacuum and dust it, just like everyone does. We didn’t use it when I was young either; I’m starting to think it might make a good spot for a hot tub.
Opposite the living room is the dining room. If your family is like mine, when the dining room isn’t being used for folding laundry, building jigsaw puzzles, or preparing taxes, it is used for high holidays, proms, weddings and funerals.
We have a hundred year old china service I bought from England on eBay. We’ve probably used it a half dozen times. It’s for special occasions—like the passage of the healthcare reform bill.
Thirteen years ago this Thanksgiving I was sitting on the floor of our dining room, inspecting our china and silverware when I came upon an unopened box of off-white, tapered candles. I found it tucked away under a pile of starched cotton linens.
The discovery of the candles gave me pause. The receipt was still taped to the candle box—purchased five years ago. Why? In case we needed them. In case there was an occasion so special as to warrant candles. At the rate we were using them, our candles and china would have lasted for hundreds of years.
I remember thinking, what occasions warrant the lighting of candles?
I almost never had the chance to learn what occasions would cause me to light our candles. Less than two weeks after our candleless Thanksgiving, December 8, 2002; a Sunday evening. I was alone in our theater room, engrossed in an episode of the Sopranos. My chest was expanding and contracting with each breath, the only thing missing was the oxygen. I was having difficulty breathing, a lot of difficulty. I paused the show, and I snuck outside to have a cigarette, thinking I could clear my head and sort out why I the whole breathing thing wasn’t working.
Not finding an answer, I returned to the Sopranos. At the end of the show I headed upstairs. According to my family I was looking pale and I was sweating profusely. I remember mentioning that I was having trouble breathing. Apparently I was having so much trouble that I collapsed to the floor.
Less we be distracted, these few paragraphs are about the unwrapped candles, not the heart attack.
I remember thinking, as I lay strapped to a gurney in the back of the ambulance, about those darned, unused candles. The candles I was saving for an important occasion.
I am willing to bet that a lot of people are saving their candles for more important occasions.
What I have worked hard at remembering during the last thirteen years is that no occasion will ever be any more important than the occasion of simply having tomorrow. These days we burn the candles. We joyfully stain the linens, and occasionally we break the crystal and the china. For whatever it may be worth, consider lighting a lot of candles this year.
Warm regards, Paul