The story below is an excerpt from our Nov./Dec. 2015 issue. For the rest of this story and more like it subscribe today, view our digital edition or download our FREE iOS app!
Do two rudimentary lighting devices carry the weight and power of generations past and those to come? Or are they mere relics in a world that has moved far beyond their form and function?
I have two oil lamps on my living room mantelpiece. They have been there a number of years now and I light them frequently, even when the electricity is working fine.
I find familiarity and comfort in them, but I’ve never taken the time to ask myself why. Are my oil lamps simply objects that I enjoy viewing and on rare occasions actually find useful, or do they have subliminal significance? I suspect that may be the case. Why otherwise would objects with no artistic merit, limited utility and little financial worth deliver any sense of comfort?
Maybe it’s as simple as the connection of the lamps to my parents. They adopted me at age three weeks. They were simple working people who were unable to have a child of their own but were willing to take a tiny stranger into their home. The lamps belonged to them and their parents before them, and in some way I derive stability and grounding knowing they have been in my family for generations. Although my attachment to family is not biologic, it could be no stronger. I wonder what path my life would have taken if two loving people had not welcomed me into their home and cared for me with all their heart and soul.
And maybe my tie to the lamps is related to having reached an age where I often feel a bit outdated myself. I continue to work, but likely not for much longer. There are many things in our society now which confuse, sadden or frustrate me, and frequently I find myself wishing to turn back the clock or slow things down a bit.
The connection to the oil lamps within that context is obvious. No doubt they symbolize the past as a simpler time, but was it truly better? I ponder that question frequently and have reached no definite conclusion. Computers and the internet have made our lives immeasurably better, but can it be denied that the computer age has also brought its own set of unique problems?