On occasion, I relearn something I’ve long since learned and lost. Sometimes when that happens, I’m struck by the fact that I’ve allowed myself to forget something so pleasing, so enlightening. This morning was one of those occasions. It was a very simple thing, but so very illuminating. The lesson today taught me about how the way I look at things can color, in a very real way, the way I think about them. It taught me, again, how seemingly inconsequential events can shape our view of the world around us.
I awoke later than normal, due in part to the fact that I was ill yesterday and tried to use sleep as a weapon against the malady. I could see through the large plate glass windows that look out on the back yard that the sky was black as midnight. It would remain that way for a good two hours.
I fumbled through the darkness into the family room, where I flipped the light switch to turn on the two incandescent can fixtures that provide light for the room. Instantly, I heard the tinny rattle, accompanied by the buzz, that signals the imminent demise of a bulb. Both lights were just as bright as normal, but I knew one of them would not survive another on-off event. I left them on and went to the kitchen to make coffee and breakfast. This morning, I decided to forgo my usual walk and not to wait for my wife to awake before making breakfast. I prepared a slight variant on my usual egg substitute and turkey bacon breakfast, opting for “frying” two real eggs instead of a quarter cup of what I call artificial egg goo. I call what I did frying, but I only used a small spray of oil…I don’t know quite what to call that mode of preparation.
The appearance of a fresh egg’s yolk combines color and reflection and light like nothing else. The shiny yellow yolk looks almost artificial, with its polished sheen. The color and the glistening reflective qualities of the surface appear almost like plastic. But plastic can’t quite capture the look of that perfect half-sphere of high-gloss yellow. As I watched the eggs cook, it occurred to me that I was seeing them differently in the light cast by the lights of the range hood than I would see them in sunlight. Had the sun yet risen, I might have compared their appearance under real, versus artificial, light. But the sun had not yet risen.
After washing my breakfast dishes, I turned off the family room lights as I was heading to my study. Just two steps in the direction of my office, I turned around to turn them on again, just to verify that one of the bulbs would not come back on. I was right. And that’s when I re-learned the lesson.
Only the bulb on the other end of the room alit when I flipped the switch. And when that bulb became illuminated, the appearance of the room was completely different from normal. Instead of a large portion of the room being bathed in light, there was a smaller pool of light at the end of the room. The room looked completely different, like a setting designed to evoke a sensation of well-being, a much warmer and more comfortable place than it had been when both lights were burning.
The demise of that one down-light bulb completely changed the character of that room. It became a gentler, more inviting room. Though the absence of the burned-out bulb rendered a good half the room unusable for reading without the support of reading lamps, it changed the mood of the room. Just one bulb, a little change in the way light reflected from the surfaces of the walls and ceilings and a reduction of the light on the dark rug under the big square coffee table altered everything. The room changed from a large room that invited activity to a small one that invited contemplation. It was truly a stunning change.
And the lesson I re-learned was a simple one we all know, but too often either forget or let slip into the far reaches of rarely retrieved memories. The world around us is not always as it appears; a slightly different way of looking at it can change one’s attitude, one’s perspectives, and one’s mind. Before that bulb burned out, I focused on what I was going to do today. Now, I’m considering what I might think today.