In this virtuous Voyage of thy life hull not about like the Ark without the use of Rudder, Mast, or Sail, and bound for no Port. — Sir T. Browne
The silvery smoke was nearly the only light guiding my path on a cold evening this past week. As I strolled past the towering smokestack, I paused for a few moments and gazed at the billowy smoke. Any of my colleagues would have cursed it. I was grateful. For that shivery evening–indeed, the wind made its way to my old bones–the lights in the building I had been working went out. As I made my way out, to my dismay, the streetlights were also out, and the short road had little to light the way. It is indeed interesting how a man can see a place in an entirely new light once all lights have been snuffed out. I made my way to my automobile, casting glances at the silvery smoke pouring out of the industrial building next to my own, and I reflected. I fought the frost and looked further past the smoke to the lesser lights beyond. And though the world on that short road had little light, I considered the setting and all its discomforts to be very good.
A modern apologist may declare that discomforts are good because they remind us to be thankful for what we have. This is the same thing as saying discomforts are good because materialism is good. But discomforts are not good because they allow us to be thankful for a thing that has been taken away; discomforts are good because they remind us of a world that once was–that is, a better world free from the comforts of modern technologies. Discomforts remind us not that we have much to be thankful for but that much of what we thought would make us happy or joyful actually leaves us quite depressed. One might even say discomforts bring us closer to a world that was pronounced good; that is, they bring us in closer communion with that Creator.
Take any comfort you can think of and apply it. The man whose care breaks down at the same time his phone battery dies is the man who gets to travel these lands on the feet God gave him. He’s like a modern day Davy Crocket or Zebulun Pike. He is not bound to his two feet; he is freed to his two feet. He is freed from that evil invention, the internal combustion engine, which does little but spread death, destruction, and depression to mankind. But an even better example of a discomfort that frees us from modern morbitities is the case from above. When a man is sitting in his study and happens to observe the lights flicker, joy should enter his breast. This is especially true if he is engaged with some electronic device that must be plugged into the wall. When the lights go out, he is altogether giddy, for he must light a candle to find his way.* Indeed, the best moments from a man’s childhood are those moments when the lights of the modern world are snuffed out–when the entire family is forced to huddle around one single candle and listen to the sounds of their own voices.
And these moments are best when experienced in the northern states where snow frees us from the modern world for a few days. In times like these, creativity is bred, for the house becomes a type of haven from the frozen world. I think, moreover, that this creativity is bred from lack of options. On any particular day, a man can go out and chew the fat with his neighbor or friends or relations. He can zone the entire world out watching T.V. But when the blizzard comes, and he’s locked inside, he must buck up and get along with whomever may be present. Better, he must get alone with whatever may be present–that is, his options are quite limited to the tiny kingdom of his house, and he sees this new place in a new light, the light of his candlestick. This truly is the answer to the riddle of modern nihilism. One may sees life as a never-ending array of random, meaningless choices that cycle year-in and year-out until his brief candle goes out. Another man subjects himself to his house and walks around as if he has discovered some untouched island. Yet another does this every day. And when this third man does leave the island, the wide world is more even more grand and mysterious than he previously imagined.
It happened, as it should every Christmas season, that I was out last week with friends gazing at Christmas lights. Now, Christmas is the one time of year when grown men become children again, perhaps in celebration of the one time God became a child. These men do altogether silly things, such as singing carols, banging bells, or telling people to be merry. They even go so far to light the more useless place in their house: the outside. Lighting the outside of your house is entirely useless and opposite of what men should do. It is like wearing your skeleton on the outside of your skin. Now, I say, the problem with modern comforts is this: That though the comforts begin as toys, they end as utilities. It would not surprise me one bit if the first train conductor sat up in that front car blowing his horn with the giddiness of a child at play. It would not surprise me to find out that the first thing Edison did with the lightbulb was amble around his house making discoveries in the dark. I would be altogether flabbergasted to hear that Edison, upon creating light, only used it during the day, to see more clearly what he already saw quite adequately. So the whole notion of Christmas lights is altogether refreshing. For in this ceremony, men play. In this ceremony, the lights have no utility, and because they lack utility, they gain meaning. They trumpet the coming of the light of the world to a very morbid and dark world. And perhaps this is why our Creator said that even the dark was “good,” for light is most appreciated against a black backdrop of nothingness. Indeed, the night sky is nothing but many houses lit for Christmas, offering hope to a dark and depressed world.
One house in particular caught our attention that evening. As we entered the subdivision, blazing blue trees, like stars, flashed before us as the angels did to the terrified shepherds. As we could not yet see the house, we drove near out of curiosity and turned the corner to get a view. It is at this moment that memory begins to fail. For the star that had led the wise men to the baby had landed in that lawn, and its brightness overtook me. The same blazing blue lights on the trunks of the trees were wrapped around every nook and cranny of the large home, and the glory of the blue trees was merely the feeble voice of one crying out in the desert. That blazing blue house looked as if it was lit on fire with scorching flames against the blackness of the night. Its glory, in comparison to the glory of the trees was that between a waning moon and a midsummer’s sun. But I cannot help but imagine that those jolly men who put the lights on the outside of the house were enclosed in darkness on the inside. I do not refer to a darkness of ill deeds or sin-nature. I refer to a darkness of discovery. I refer to a darkness that makes everything bright. A darkness that takes unending joy in the little light of a candle, a joy manifested in the light of the bright morning star. Better, a joy manifested in the light of the Sun.
Sam Snow, theficklefarce.com
Written at Kansas State University,
December 19, 2014
Transcribed by the author
Yet in a jolly mood,
December 22, 2014
Painting: “Candlelight: Youth Lighting a Pipe”
Oil on canvas, n.d.
*The candle should be used, not a horrid flashlight.