Night VisionOct 30, 2023 12:43PM ● By Rhonda Wray
I was recently challenged to unplug—to go without electricity from sundown until bedtime. From 8-11:30 p.m., I did just that.
Dusk was fading fast. My first candle wouldn’t ignite, and in the gathering darkness, I tripped over a cord. Creature of habit that I am, I had to stop myself from reflexively reaching for the light switch.
The experience improved when I lit a pumpkin-scented candle that blazed brightly. Still, I didn’t think I’d be able to do much, if anything—and I considered how long I could hold out until I turned in for the night.
But I had to at least try to make it work. Gradually, my eyes adjusted to the dim surroundings. There were dishes in the sink, so I plunged my hands into the warm suds by the golden glow of my single candle pioneer-style, trying to feel when the pans were clean by their smoothness more than by sight. I turned them over to dry, wondering whether the morning light would show shiny pots or missed spots.
My 21-year-old son was due home soon, and I had no idea what he’d think, walking in to utter darkness and another of Mom’s wacky ideas. Either way, it was my challenge and not his. He could do as he wished.
But he thought it was cool and got into the spirit of the challenge, even apologizing profusely when he briefly turned on the hall light. He mulled over the possibility of taking on the same challenge himself. We ended up having a long, meandering conversation about life as the wick flickered between us. I wondered if we would have made time for such sharing if we’d had devices out to divert our attention.
You learn a new way of seeing. I thought of ’80s singer Suzanne Vega’s poetic lyrics about darkness: “Find the line, find the shape through the grain. Find the outline, and things will tell you their name. The table, the guitar, the empty glass, all will blend together when the daylight has passed.”
The ceiling fans cast giant windmill-like abstract shadows from the candle’s glow. My son pointed out the window to silvery backlit cumulus clouds, illuminated by the moonlight. We never notice these images when all the lights are on.
As I carted my candle around, it struck me how utterly dark the place I’d just been became without that one flame. The whole atmosphere took on a contrasting chiaroscuro effect of shadow and light, as if I’d stepped inside a painting by Rembrandt.
My eyesight isn’t wonderful, so I wasn’t sure I should even try to crack open a book, even with “cheaters.” But I was eager to dive into my latest library acquisition. Fortunately, my candle’s output was enough for me to read a chapter.
I reflected on my “Little House on the Prairie”-style evening and everything that seemed impossible that was possible after all. Lulled by the cinnamon-pumpkin fragrance and slower pace, I exhaled, feeling an overwhelming sense of peace and well-being. Choosing to turn off the power source and its accompanying distractions was a good discipline for me.
I blew out the dancing flame, mesmerized by its smoldering orange embers in the room’s shroud of darkness. Finally, they too went out. Without screen time, I didn’t have the interference of any blue light exposure. I immediately drifted off.
In the light of morning, I checked the dishes. They were gleaming.
“We should do that again sometime,” my son said.
My candle is ready. I hope we do.