Emily Parnell: Light bulbs and relationships: May they ever longer burn bright

12/30/2013 8:14 PM

12/30/2013 8:14 PM

One of our light bulbs burned out. It was in an ornamental wall sconce — and was a special size with a smaller doohickey to screw into the thingmajiggy. I didn’t have a replacement-in-wait stashed in the closet, so I headed to the hardware store.

I spend a fair amount of time with my head in the sand, and had half missed/half willfully ignored the news that the U.S. is phasing out incandescent light bulbs. While 40- and 60-watt light bulbs will go out for good today, I faced new, longer-lasting light bulb options for my purchase. I ponied up the extra cash to improve, coming home with a long-lasting energy-efficient option. I returned home with my purchase, climbed up to stand on the cushy arm chair, and reached in to remove the dusty, burned-out light bulb. The packaging on the new bulb advised me it would last seven years. I racked my brain trying to remember the last time I’d changed the bulb. It had been a while, but nowhere near seven years. That’s a long time, and it got my wheels turning.

I began to wonder, where will I be in seven years? Will it be the last time I climb up and reach blindly in, hoping to not encounter a spider? Will we still live in this house? Could it be the last time I change this bulb?

I calculated dates. The new light bulb is predicted to expire in 2020. The date sounds so futuristic. It seems to me, we should have flying cars by then, right? A robot will do all my cleaning, and we’ll watch a hologram, not a regular television. Clearly my vision of 2020 is not 20/20.

When I think back seven years, things were different — but the same. Same house, same kids, same husband, different pets. But seven years before that, I lived in a different world. A memory popped into my mind. I was on an airplane, heading home from a broken marriage in Philadelphia to celebrate the holidays with friends and family. I read an article in which a life coach consulted with people to help them reach their New Year’s resolutions. One couple made a resolution to be better spouses to one another every single year for the rest of their lives.

To me, in the throes of divorce, the resolution was a beautiful sentiment with little personal application.

It was something to file away for later as I hoped for better relationships, for more stable times, for longevity of happiness. A year later, I met my husband. And 13 years after that, I’m reminded that seven years of sameness is a good thing. Every seven years that the light stays on, the currents of love and kindness that run through our family, the glow that shines on our family as we live our daily life, and the confidence that what we have is lasting, those are all reassuring.

Seven years from now, that light bulb will burn out. There’s no telling what the circumstances will be, or if it will even be our family who replaces that bulb. We may not have a flying car by then, but light bulb technology will surely improve.

I think I’ll take my cue from technology, and from an article I read 14 years ago — to continually improve.

To make each year better than the next. To make strides toward ever-increasing the lifespan of my relationships with my family. To put energy in now that will pay back for years to come.

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