Lights

At my house there is a light bulb that has burned for at least sixteen years, for as long as I’ve lived here. It’s an old incandescent screwed into a motion detector that protects my basement door and garage way. It is a dusty and dirty old thing fastened to a clunkily unsophisticated fixture, and I’ve ceased attempting to clean it in any way, if I ever did. Being motion sensitive, it enjoys long periods of rest, summer days when both leaving and returning home are brightly sunlit even into the far reaches of the garage. Those good days, when the southern and western exposures of the house are filled with the warmth of illumination and the sense of carefree safety, lead me to the lazy assumption that because of its limited use my bulb will last forever. Only in the past few years did I notice the bulb and the fact that I have never replaced it; my attention to its longevity no doubt springs from some unremembered easing into the garage during a bad storm, or a late night out, some small, grateful moment of respite from whatever unease makes us all glad to be home and parked.

Thus, at some point the little-light-bulb-that-could drew my notice, and now it is something that I frequently consider, especially late Sunday night as it blinks to life when I drag the trash bin from the garage to the street. I think about the bulb when the neighbor’s cats come creeping into the yard to fight and yowl, their bodies large enough to trip the motion detector before they slink back into the night. I think about it during fierce thunderstorms when wind and leaves thrashing in black skies batter the little light to shine and at times even remain lit until the storms’ wildest urges subside.

This year I have thought more about the bulb, wondering how long it might last and whether, with the discontinuation of incandescents, I should squirrel away a couple of 100 watters just in case. Speculating about this has led to thinking about more intimate lights, especially in these last days of an excruciating year, one in which it seemed there were fingers of darkness grasping at me from every corner.

I began the year musing about a long lasting security bulb and now end it thinking about other lights that are, for no better way to express it, on the inside of me. There is light to be found in the darkest days of a dim year. In a couple of weeks, the shortest day will pass, trumpeting the heart of winter but bringing a little extra daytime to struggle through it. Those extra minutes of January lead me to anticipate spring, a stealthy excitement that always brings with it energy and renewed focus. Next year my only resolve is to remain alight within, to stay open and soft inside. To this end, I have a reminder, a little chat light on my phone, something I turned on a while ago for someone else but instantly found that I enjoy keeping lit for myself. It’s something that can’t be snuffed out, a token acknowledgement that it’s important to just be myself.

Last night, for the first time, I lit a small menorah and let it shine through my dining room window onto the street below. It’s a symbol of freedom and the fanning of an ember that I’ve held close since childhood, a pull towards Judaism and the God of Moses. In lighting the shamash and speaking the ancient prayer aloud, I felt connected to the same spirit of liberation from oppression that Hanukkah represents. It’s a joyful light, and it feels like the re-dedication of something that feels like faith.

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