This Little Light of Mine

People are always sharing “the thing that changed their lives.”  I mainly talk to old folks (who are fond of looking backwards anyway), so they just love to tell the tale of how they got to the (presumably) wonderful and meaningful life they have in their declining years.  The stories are almost like religious testimonials except nobody upstairs gets any credit.  Some of them gave up drinking, and I suppose that did give them a new life in some ways.  Many of these still act like drunks, though, but without the whiskey breath and health complications.  A few women met the perfect man after years of abusive relationships.  I wonder, though, on closer acquaintance, whether the only difference was as to which partner got to do the abusing.  Some credit their transformation to the move to a warmer clime or the cure of their cancer or migraines.  Or getting a dog.  Many, many dog and cat stories.  But, as I said, very few cite divine intervention.

Until recently, I had no such transformation in my life.  I suppose I had some turning points.  I got divorced once with no regrets and later remarried fairly happily.  I never drank much or used drugs, but I have a long list of bad habits, like procrastination and catastrophe thinking I have dragged through life with me.  I have two children, but they’re in the tempest of their busy middle ages and I don’t see them much, so I wouldn’t say I am a dedicated mother.  I am proud of them, but neither of them is extraordinary, and the grandchildren are so buried in their phones that I really have no idea what they are like.  In any case, after my husband Dave died, I couldn’t see much meaning in my life.  I’m not a “spiritual” person; although I have tried it from time to time, belief just slips off me like a silk blouse.  But all that has changed in the past year, but not in a way that I can tell anyone about.  I’m writing this to leave to someone (I’m still not sure who) so they can know what happened, and so somebody can make sure that no one undoes what I have done.

As I said, I had no remarkable pivots in my life.  When my husband Dave died almost seven years ago, I wondered how I was going to fill up the years I had left.  Upon the insistence of relatives and friends, I tried different things.  I went on a meditation retreat (my sister); I took piano lessons (my son); I went to a big church that had a widow’s and widower’s group (my neighbor Betty) – none of it did anything for me.  I scheduled long visits with my kids and grandkids, but always left early. It seemed that the more time we spent together, the less we liked each other.  Life was pretty grim even without turning on CNN.  The years ahead looked long and boring.

Honestly, Dave was a pretty peculiar guy in some ways.  You wouldn’t really notice anything very strange (except he was shy) if you met him socially, but I put up with and even enjoyed his many eccentricities.  One was that he could only sleep in the pitch dark.  I mean no illumination.  At home we had dark curtains over dark blinds, and no lights on elsewhere which might seep under the door.  Dave carried duct tape for the little lights that dot hotel rooms – the glowing eyes of the smoke detector, television, microwave, clock.  Needless to say, as I got older and my bladder got weaker, I had to have a penlight beside the bed so I didn’t trip over the rug and break a hip in my frequent trips to the toilet.  It was a nuisance, but just one of those things you put up with for someone you love.

Dave hadn’t been gone a week before I went out and bought a night light.  It had been over thirty years since I had slept alone, and I heard every creak and drip in the house, every critter in the back yard, every slow-moving car on the street outside.  I was scared, but I definitely wasn’t the type to keep a pistol in my nightstand.  Anyway, the night light solved the problem.  Or maybe I just got used to be alone in the house.  I loved my nightlight.  It wasn’t an ordinary light; it had a colorless glow that made the whole room look like it was flooded with moonlight.  In the days before Dave and the curtains, I used to love to see moonlight coming into a room.  Sunlight is nice, but it is harsh.  Moonlight is reflected sunlight – the sun once removed.  I got rid of my penlight and slept wonderfully well – at first.

Of course, I still missed Dave.  His ashes were in a brass urn on the kitchen counter next to the canisters, and I talked to him there from time to time while I was cooking for one or washing pans.  I knew I had to do something with his dusty remains eventually – I didn’t want to leave his ashes for the kids to take care of, but I wasn’t ready to part with what was left of Dave yet, and I had no idea when it would be or what I would do about it.

As I said, the night light was reassuring.  But, after a month or so, strange things started to happen.  Some nights the light was considerably stronger than it was other nights  (like the waning and waxing of the moon).  I tried taking the light back to the hardware store where I bought it, but they didn’t carry the brand anymore and did not know anything about it.    I tried another night light, but the glow was too harsh, so I went back to the moonglow.  Its inconsistencies were weird, but not really bothersome.  To tell you the truth, it added some interest to a pretty boring life.

Then it started to get brighter and brighter.  Now I had to get a new light, but the weird light had done something to the plug and other lights didn’t seem to work.  It wasn’t the outlet – I used the same outlet for the vacuum and that worked fine.  That’s when I started to worry.

I decided to get it out of the house, so the day before trash day I threw it in the garbage can.  When I added the last the trash the next morning, the whole inside of the bin was glowing.  I mean really glowing.  There was no way the garbage guys weren’t going to think something strange was going on.  I knew that this was amazing, but somehow I also knew that it was just between the nightlight and me.  I took it out of the garbage and pondered its fate.  My fate.

I couldn’t sleep with the thing anymore, so I put it under a pail in the garage.  I tried to forget that it was there, but if I pulled the car in at night, I could see the silver light seeping from underneath the green bucket.  I even put a cinder block on top of the pail so it wouldn’t break out – as silly as that might sound. It still seemed to be getting brighter, and in my worse moments I worried that it would melt the plastic pail. 

As I said, I am not a superstitious or religious person, but I concluded, I was sure, that the light was evil and that I was the only one who could do something about it. Don’t laugh.  I know that in the Bible, the light is a good thing.  “Let there be light!” thunders God.   Jesus even said not to hide your candle under a bushel basket, and here was mine under a green plastic pail.  And there is that gospel song I have always loved, “This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine….”  Well, this light was not the light of the Lord.  It wasn’t up to me to say that it was the eye of the devil, but it was sinister.  It was up to no good.  I just knew that it was my mission to do something about it. 

You’re probably wondering why I didn’t enlist someone to help me.  I tried once.  I told my daughter about the nightlight when it first began to get brighter and brighter, and it was obvious that she thought I was losing it.  The next three conversations we had were about 1) my need to see a doctor, 2) nice assisted-living centers near her, and 3) whether any of my relatives had suffered from dementia.  I never mentioned the light again.  Besides, the whole situation had started to feel personal, like something I had to cope with myself.

I know this sounds weird, but in a strange way I was glad to have something to worry about other than the stock market and whether that strange pain in my head was a stroke.  If I got too nervous about other things, I would just go out to the garage and lift the pail a little.  My neighbors fuss over their designer dogs or can’t talk about anything but their last bridge game.  I guess everyone needs some kind of project to avoid thinking about the abyss, but I can’t help imagining I am doing something more important in my old age.  That light really is evil.

After a while, I began to worry that if I had cerebral hemorrhage or something and just died suddenly, what would happen to the light in the garage?  When my kids came to clean out the house, they would just let it loose – or worse, take it home and use it.  As I said, it was pointless to talk to them about it. 

But one day when I was looking at Dave’s urn on the kitchen counter, the answer came to me.  I saw a way to solve my two major problems at the same time and I decided to embark on my plan right away. I knew I would sleep easier – and so would everyone else, if they only knew.

I emptied Dave out onto some newspapers on the garage floor.  He was mostly dust, with a few chunks of bone.  I wondered what happened to his artificial knee – did it go through the grinder and end up as part of this dust or did they pull it out at the crematorium and sell it for spare parts?  Anyway, I didn’t even cry, so the worse part of my grief must have been over, or at least subsumed by more important concerns.  I then put on gloves, opened a bottle of superglue, lifted the cinderblock off the pail, and upended the bucket to grab the night light.  I thought the light would fit through the mouth of the urn and it just barely did.  The light shone like a laser through the mouth of the urn while I applied a hefty amount of superglue to the rim and lid and then I closed it up firmly and leaned on it for the next ten minutes.  When I tried to lift off the lid, I picked up the whole urn instead.  No one was going to get into that pot easily.

Now I needed outside help. I called Mr. Feltner, the undertaker who had taken care of Dave and told him I wanted to buy a burial plot out in the countryside somewhere to bury the urn, and that I wanted a concrete coffin vault to enclose it.  Mr. Feltner told me that they made small concrete vaults to fit cremation urns, and I said that would be fine.  He asked me if I wanted just one plot.  He said I could have my ashes put in the same grave as Dave, but maybe there were other family members who wanted to be close by. No, I said. No possibility. 

“And I don’t want to be there either, so if I die and my kids find out where their father is, please don’t let them bury me there.”   Actually, I had no intention of telling the kids what I had done with their father’s urn; I had already spread his ashes in the garden, and I would tell them that was where he was.

“Do you want some kind of graveside service?”  Mr. Feltner was confused.  “A minister or something?  We can get someone who’ll do a nice job for you.  And how about family?”

“No,” I answered emphatically.  “No minister, no family.  But I want to be there.  And remember, it has to be out in the country, far away from anything. That’s what Dave wanted. If you get me some possibilities, I’ll scout them out.”

I looked at three cemeteries and settled on one just outside of a small farm town that looked like it was disappearing quickly – only one church left and no grocery or drug stores.  It wasn’t the prettiest, but it looked like the most forgotten.  The plot cost me $475 and that included perpetual care, which I guess means they mow down the hay once or twice a year. The vault was $280, and I had already paid for the urn.  It cost $85 to get the hole dug.  Feltner called me the day he and I were going to meet there; I had told him I would bring the urn – I didn’t want anyone else to touch it, although I tell you I was nervous having it in the car with me.

“Don’t you want a stone or marker or something?” The burial had gone well, and I had insisted that the two of us stay until the hole was filled in.   You could tell the funeral director was perplexed.  He should have been satisfied – he probably got a commission on the plot and was selling me a very expensive “sealed” concrete vault.

I actually had to think about that one.  I didn’t want Dave’s name on the grave, but I also didn’t want anyone else digging it up by accident because they thought it was empty.  And I might want to check on it once it a while, so it would be good if I always knew exactly where it was.

“Get me a price on one of those brass markers you lay in the ground.  A big one.  And put Dave’s name and dates on it, and “Please Let Me Sleep in Peace.”  Mr. Feltner was still confused, but he had just sold me something else, so he should have been satisfied.

Even if he wasn’t satisfied, I was.  The brass plaque was delivered a month later, and by that time the grass was recovering over the little hole that the urn went in.  I never used another nightlight; I went back to the flashlights I used when Dave was alive.  And no one ever knew until now.  I’m just telling you so that you don’t think I wasted my life.  And so you can make sure that no one touches the grave, and that my ashes are spread in the garden with Dave’s. 



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