The Light Within by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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I like looking in windows. I know that might sound creepy at first, but hear me out. In a world where the external looms so large over the internal, I find it fascinating to peep inside and inspect the inner workings of things. Not intrusively, mind you, just inquisitively. All I need is a little light.

George Fox, founder of the Religious Society of Friends, i.e. the Quakers, often spoke and wrote reverently about the light within. That light (which according to Brother Fox is in each of us) is the reflection of the presence of God. That’s all well and good, but it’s also well above my pay grade and goes far beyond the scope of this simple musing. What I’m talking about is much less profound or ecclesiastic and much more about the electric kind of lighting that burns within our homes. Wattage. To be really specific: light bulbs.

I went to the hardware store recently to buy some bulbs. Not Christmas lights (well, I did buy some of those), but regular old 60 watt bulbs, the kind of bulbs my wife and I put in lamps to brighten the living room, or to read a book, or to illuminate the front porch to welcome friends (or Friends if you happen to be one with Brother Fox). I assumed this would be a relatively quick trip, but when I took a left onto Aisle 25 at JBK, I realized I had just stepped into the middle of a lighting revolution. On every nook, hook, and shelf, all I saw were variations of new-fangled bulbs, bulbs that didn’t even look like bulbs, fantastic LED bulbs that promised to last until the end of time and save me a lot of money in the process—not that I’ll need any money beyond the end of time, mind you. Warm lights, bright lights, soft lights, clear lights; black and blue lights; lumens of all kinds and quantities, in all shapes and sizes. Whatever happened to plain old light; good, old-fashioned lux, that friendly SI unit of illumination that is equal to one lumen per square meter? In a panic, I found a helpful hardware person and asked where I could find candles.

The trouble was, we needed light bulbs, not candles. (Trust me: we have plenty of candles, so many that sometimes the porch looks like we’re having a seance, not a glass of wine. We even have battery operated candles, but that opens a whole other can of worms.) So, not to be intimated or to appear insensitive to the energy-reducing requirements of global warming, I stayed in Aisle 25 and splurged. I stocked up on all kinds of LED accoutrement and headed home.

A half hour later, I was on my way back to the hardware store to exchange said accoutrement. I really should have known better; I didn’t even bother to argue the point—points—with my wife: the lights were much to harsh; they didn’t fit under the harp of any lampshade; and they certainly wouldn’t be flattering in the sconces on either side of the bathroom mirror. So damn those Washington bureaucrats at EPA, go back and get some real light bulbs! Yes, dear.

I had the distinct feeling that I was not the first husband to fall into this trap. The red vest at the entrance to the hardware store saw me coming and immediately knew what to do. She politely took back all the LED equipment, led me down a side aisle I hadn’t noticed before, and pointed to a dark (of course it was) bottom shelf. I almost wept with joy: there they were: light bulbs, the kind we’ve been screwing in since all the candles were snuffed out many years ago, the kind that would relight the way to domestic bliss.

So now you know why I like to look in windows. I’m not snooping. Like a moth drawn to the flame, I just love basking in the glow of the light within.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. “A Place to Stand,” a book of his photographs, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015. He is currently working on a collection of stories called “Musing Right Along.”

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