I hung rope lights on my house last December just barely in time for Christmas. Attaching them securely under the gutters with the miniature screws and brackets provided turned out to be a major hassle. It required more energy than I’d wanted to give on a Saturday and resulted in new and interesting combinations of the ‘F’ word, ‘B’ word and other words my kids can’t say.
Me on a ladder with power tools is usually a bad idea.
After enduring that experience and not wanting to relive it anytime soon, I made the executive decision that we were going to be one of those families that keeps their Christmas lights up year-round. My wife had mixed feelings about it but my kids thought it was a brilliant idea. We live in the country where there are no streetlights and few neighbors, so having a constant glow in our driveway created a nice ambiance and kept us from stumbling around in the dark.
When I installed the lights I found an outlet under the deck with power. It was the perfect place to hide the jumbled mess of orange and white extension cords that I’d rigged together to make it all work. The only problem with the location was how inconvenient it was to duck under the deck every time I wanted to turn the lights off. Unplugging a cord every day was cumbersome and low on my priority list.
So the lights stayed on. Constantly.
Night and day those clear ropes were radiating their glory whether anyone was noticing or not. I had my 8-year old unplug them once in mid-March on a rare day when we weren’t running late to school, but otherwise for the past six months they’ve just been on.
Yesterday, while standing on my porch with the sun shining down on me, I glanced up and noticed the faint glow of my artificial lights above. I had to squint to see for sure if they were still on because they paled in comparison to the greater light of day. I felt a tinge of guilt and could almost see my dad’s disappointed face thinking about those lights being left on in broad daylight. Such a waste.
Granted, we’re talking about tiny incandescent specks that cost me a few dimes a day to run, so it’s a relatively small loss. I guess it’s a price I’m willing to pay for the luxury of never having to unplug them.
But I can’t help feeling a little guilty about it.
Growing up, I watched my parents waste things about as often as I saw them cheat or steal from people- which is to say, never.
My mom clipped coupons for groceries and shopped for clothes at Goodwill. My dad never threw away a bar of soap from the shower no matter how small or useless it became. Instead, the wafer-thin soap would get squished onto a thick new bar and the two would meld into one, wasting nothing.
When our family would leave the house, we’d make sure every switch was off and every curtain closed, with the thermostat adjusted up or down to save energy while we were gone.
In all of their activities, my parents were figuring out how to conserve their resources and stretch a dollar as far as they possibly could.
And it all makes sense now that I’m a responsible adult running my own household. I find myself frustrated when my kids don’t finish everything on their plate and it goes in the trash. Or when we try to save money by renting at Redbox instead of AppleTV but then don’t return the movie for a week. Or when my wife leaves the organic almonds on the back deck and the cats gnaw through the bag, spoiling twenty bucks-worth of nuts.
Like my parents, I deeply despise waste. But the irony is that to some degree, I’ve grown to accept it.
I focus so much time and energy on making money that I don’t always pay attention to see how I might be losing it. Or maybe I do see, but I just don’t care.
Even though it’s against my nature to squander anything I’ve earned or been given, sometimes I don’t have enough fingers and toes to plug every hole and keep the water from leaking out. Some days life is just inefficient and chaotic. Some days I have to give myself permission to let things unravel a little and pay the price later.
Even if it looks like waste.
When I consider the magnitude of wealth in the natural world and the abundance of creation, I start questioning my paranoia about never wasting anything. I start wondering if maybe waste is a part of the plan.
The oak in my backyard might drop a thousand acorns but not one of them will survive. They’ll be trampled-on, eaten, or diseased and will never become what they were intended to be.
The Southern States flood from torrential rainstorms while California endures its worst drought on record. People suffer because there’s either too much or not enough.
There’s a million flowers in faraway fields whose blossoms will explode into life and color and magnificence, but nobody will behold their beauty. They will live and die unnoticed.
My body just made 30 million sperm while I was writing this article. I have not used a single one yet.
Life is less fragile and scarce than we think. Even God wastes.
Then again, maybe I’m just trying to justify leaving my lights on for another six months until next Christmas.
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