The contract in our apartment prohibits the use of open-flamed candles. When I first read this clause, I found it a little bizarre; the implication that there existed candles that didn’t feature open flames was prophetically innovative to me. Sure enough, one of our wedding gifts was such a device consisting of a powerful light bulb that heats up a bowl melting cubes of wax and thus releasing a euphoric aroma. Just goes to show that there’s always more than one way to skin a cat, or light a candle.
About a month into our marriage, I accidently knocked over the lamp; it fell to the floor with an anti-climactic thud. No damage was done other than the fact that all the liquid wax was strewn across the middle of our hallway. My wife and I watched in momentary horror as the wax cooled hardening into a shape reminiscent of the childhood book “It Looked Like Spilt Milk”. Somewhat startled and a little bit panicked, I uttered seven words which I’m sure every husband has regretted at some point or another: “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it.” My wife gave me a skeptical glance but, in her infinite grace, didn’t say a word.
A few days later, I was working at my desk in the other corner of the room when the blemish suddenly caught my eye. With an Evangelistic fervor, I wet some paper towels and set myself to scrubbing the spot. But nothing happened.
And nothing continued to happen for the next two minutes, which is about the time I dedicated to the issue before I realized it was going nowhere, pondered of all the other things which might procure much greater tangible results, threw down the paper towel, mutteringly damned the spot on the carpet to the deepest darkest corners of hell and then returned to my paper.
My will sits on a pendulum between apathy and hyper-curiosity; I either care too little or care too much about everything else to take the time to address the pertinent issues in my world. My life is surrounded by blemishes in the carpet, unfinished projects which, in some age past, caught my eye in the immediacy of their plight. I give up on studying Hebrew because I see no results; I let friendships fall away because someone else comes along. I read a brochure about starving people somewhere else and for a moment I am inflamed with passion for their cause. But the passion dies faster than the flame on a flameless candle and eventually it is just another spot on the rug.
Some time later my wife and I were reading on our couch when her eyes wandered to the rejected spot.
“Um, babe?” she asked, tentatively, sweetly, like one might nudge a dragon to wake it up for school. “About the carpet… you said you were going to clean that up.”
I glanced up. “Oh…yes…that. Well, I tried. No luck. Ho-hum.” I returned to my reading.
But she was confused. “So…now what?”
I shrugged. “I dunno. It’ll go away eventually.”
She frowned, possibly wondering if I was still talking about our carpet or if the discussion had fast-forwarded twenty years to the topic of our teenager’s pimples. She probed further: “What…uh…exactly did you try?”
I didn’t even look up. “Everything.”
Seeing that the conversation had reached a roadblock, she returned to her reading with another jewel in her crown. My stubbornness has manufactured that thing and, though I shouldn’t be, for that I’m proud.
But when I think about all the “everythings” in my life I have attempted, I feel a sense of imminent shame. There is nothing to which I have dedicated myself entirely: not school, not marriage, not work, not even-I must admit-my faith. The everything within me, the entirety of my desire and effort, is constantly split fifteen different ways. If one of these fails to produce immediate results to further captivate my attention, I move on to the next. I am a consumer of my own will, a cannibal of my own desires. The irony pervades me.
Thus, the spot on the carpet remains. Some day I will dedicate my everything to removing it, just for a few minutes, maybe an hour. Hopefully before my wife’s infinite patience runs dry. Maybe by that time I’ll have found the key to persistence. Maybe then I won’t be instantly drawn from the task at hand by the first enticing prospect to catch my eye. Maybe. Just maybe.
But until then the spot remains as a reminder. A reminder of the grace I demand from those I love the most, a reminder of my own shortcomings even in the midst of my greatest intentions, a reminder to me of all the everythings I fail to give in my life.