• stephenjrountree

The Problem with a Candle

Paris is like a candle.

But there are problems with a candle, you say, right away. Always they say that right away.

True. It is true. But the problems with a candle are not what you might think.

So, first, let us dispel these rumors, these slanders upon candles, because they’re getting old.

These falsehoods stink.

And distract from what is actually the problem with a candle.

So first, let us commence with dispelling the most egregious rumor, that the problem with a candle is its little flame’s little reach.

For a flashlight shines much farther! You cry.

But it is in nearness that a candle’s light aims to reach.

After all, it was Charlie Chaplain himself who said about cinema that life is a tragedy when seen close-up, but a comedy is a long shot.

So keep your comedy, your lack of a close-up, your distance.

For the candle is not afraid to show what is close to you, what is near to you.

What about in darkness, though, in total, absolute, darkness? A candle is useless.

A flashlight is the better option.

Like, for instance, walking in a cave.

Spare me.

Flashlights only illuminate the dangers. All stalagmites and all stalactites.

The depths of the darkness. The certainty that in here you will get lost, and bruised. A twisted ankle, at best.

But not a candle. Oh, no, not a candle. The candle will illuminate your path but only step by step.

One step at a time, and it is one step at a time that deeper you will go, into the deepest depth.

The bravery is the step, and then another, and it will illuminate the stalactites and the stalagmites,

When you need them to be shown. And you will crouch, and will step over, and you will bump your head, and you will twist your ankles, but you will go, one danger at a time.

Not all dangers all at once so that you do not step one foot more into this dark cave.

By not accident did the monks and scribes work exclusively by candlelight through the darkest ages of the dark ages,

and by candlelight they wrote themselves through to the renaissance. To light.

Besides, when you complain of the little candle's little reach, just try to shine your precious flashlight onto yourself.

It's too harsh. It’s too bright and blinds you all at once.

No. Slow and dim and steady wins the race of self-revelation.

For that, for the bumps on the stalactites and the twisted ankles on the stalagmites,

I do not apologize. Even though I see the bruises.

Because a flashlight would not have helped.

It would have only shown you where you did not want to go. You never would stepped into the cave, or out.


I do not apologize for that.

Especially when I think: Can you image if it were just us? If had it really truly absolutely had to be just us.

Think of how it would have been in another life in a different time.

Before flashlights, who run on chemical reactions, soon to be disposed, or fluorescent, impersonal lights, who steal another's wick, who steal the burn from coal or oil burning somewhere else, somewhere far away, somewhere you will never go.

Can you imagine if it were just the two of us when only candles burned and from their own lights.

The depth at what the two of us would have had with every uttered single word.

And at night we would see nothing else but us because all else is forbidden by the little candle's little reach.

Can you imagine. We both know we both can. I don't know why I even ask.

But I will not be your flashlight.

I will only illuminate you when

All other lights are vacated.

Even if it is a flashlight you choose in the end.

Besides, if a little flame's little light was a problem, then so would be the little wingspan of a parachute, and a parachute would not be the most important thing in a plane.

Maybe it's best if you don’t see all.

I've never pretended to compete with the fluorescent lights of the world, of course not.

They want to see all, but I only want to see all of you, and the closeness around you.

I will not be directed. Or aimed, or show you what you want to see.

So my little flame's little reach is not a problem for me.

That is by design.

Secondly. The second problem is easily distinguished.

The second problem they say is that a candle is easily extinguished.

Yeah. Easily extinguished. Put me away when you don’t need me. Or don’t. But the choice is yours as you see fit.

I am proud to be snuffed out just as easily as I am lit.

I can be in love with you, and you with me,

And you with me, And I can be snuffed out as quietly and easily.


I like being put on some damn table, a decorative object for your guests to glance over.

If I were big and sturdy, I could not hide in plain site, and if not in plain site, I would not easily be grabbed when you need me most.

From the hallway, as decor,

I can remain extinguished and unlit, and in this state I will watch and explore,

for the truth.

Will I be jealous, when I see you walk with fluorescent light. Yes.

But then again, I've waited before,

and can wait again.

And because I am easily extinguished, I am easily lit,

And be ready at an arm's reach whenever you see fit, at the snap of your fingers.

What powers me powers the stars, after all.

So maybe I'm not ever fully extinguished, just waiting high in the sky, waiting to fall,

Back for you.

I’ve traveled with you, and even if I have to leave, sometimes that's what makes it so special.

Like Paris. A trip to Paris is easily extinguished. Easily left.

Like Paris, maybe it was only meant to burn for a little, maybe only stroll the boulevards for a few days, just to remind you that Paris exists and places like Paris exist.

Waiting unlit? It’s a virtue. Not a problem. It doesn't matter if others live here. It’s yours, too. Just like in Paris.

The third myth about the problem with a candle: the safety hazard.

If left unattended, we have tended in the past to burn everything down.

I can be on the dangerous side of things.

Whereas, if you accidentally leave a flashlight on, no biggie. It just goes out, eventually.

You’re goddamn right.

If you pick me up, from my spot as nice decor on a side table, on the credenza, just remember, small as I may be, what powers me is no small ember, it also powers the stars!

I can burn away the shit and the smell of shit. Like wildfires, and lava. Yeah, I said it. Lava.

But really, the burn mark I leave means I won't be forgotten.

That, not the ashes, would be my only tragedy,

If you ever forgot it was me.

In the cave.

Oscar Wilde says true friends stab you in the front.

And flashlights are for chasing after people.

I’m sorry, but I’m a true friend, and I had to expose you to yourself, burn you where the fluorescent lights wouldn't.

Despite how much it burnt.

A true friend stabs you and burns you in the front, and my hands are bloody as hell, and so is your chest.

So is it a problem that I burn?


It distinguishes me from the rest.

Now that we have dispelled these rumors three,

I'll expose to you the real problem with a candle, though, if you've picked me up, it's not all that difficult to see.

For I have burnt you and exposed you and walked with you with a flame that though it can hurt can also power the stars, and all just to see the truth in you.

And leaves me with telling you that the only real problem with a candle is this,

If what they say about ignorance is true,

Then the real problem with a candle is bliss.

*We took this photo of the Memorial des Martyrs de la Deporation in Paris. Each light represents a Jewish life taken from Paris during the holocaust. It's right by Norte-Dame on the Ile de la Cite.

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