I think the world can be divided into two groups of people: Those who burn their candles and those, like me, who don't burn them because, well, then they'd be gone.
I'm not reaching for the metaphoric here. This isn't about people who live their lives with such intensity that we say they "burn their candles at both ends." No, I'm talking literally about the wax candles with wicks that I keep on my bookcase and night table, the ones that were bought because their colors worked with my decor, or were gifts from friends.
The discussion about candle burning surfaced the other night as my 14-year-old was helping me set the dining room table for company. She looked at the candles I have strewn around the room and asked me if she could light them. The question took me aback. "You mean, burn them?" I repeated with enough astonishment in my voice to make her laugh. "Isn't that what candles are for?" she not-so-gently queried.
It was actually an excellent question.
For some people, indeed candles are for burning. They see candles as replaceable decorative items that enhance the experience of an evening just by using them for their intended purpose. Me? I have no understanding of those people.
"Mom, candles are cheap. You can get new ones," said the wise daughter, and with an uncharacteristic inability to resist the unkind jab, threw in "and besides, these have an inch of dust of them." An exaggeration, but point taken.
Why are burning candles so hard for me? In general, I'm someone who likes to periodically shed her possessions like a snake sheds its skin. I find it liberating, freeing, lightening of both my spirit and body. I like to throw out everything I don't use, except for my candles, which are just about the only things I buy whose purpose I intentionally ignore. Can I really be alone in this affliction?
To answer that, I turned to the National Candle Association, figuring that given the nature of its business -- after all, you don't buy new candles until you've burned the ones you have -- the association could provide some insight into those of us who must be the bane of the industry's existence.
Were there any studies about people who buy candles and then don't use them, I asked. "Uh, no, not that I'm aware of," said the nice spokeswoman. "People burn candles."
Did she know of any reasons why someone wouldn't? "Wouldn't what?" said the nice spokeswoman, who wasn't getting it.
"What if," I tried a different tack, "they buy them as decorations so then maybe they don't want to burn them. I mean, if they see them as lamps they aren't going to throw them in the fireplace, right?"
"OK," she said, undoubtedly regretting if not her career choice then at least her decision to return my call. "Yeah, what you just said."
The association held its 38th annual convention in Las Vegas on April 19 where, as best I can determine, nobody talked about the issue of non-burners in between rounds of golf and roulette.
The group's website noted that scientists have indeed been fascinated by candles for hundreds of years and been avidly studying candles all that time. But none of those scientists have been all that interested in we non-burners.
Way back in 1860, Michael Faraday delivered "his now-famous lecture series on the chemical history of a candle," and in the late 1990s NASA conducted space shuttle experiments to learn about the behavior of candle flames in microgravity, the site reports.
Research laboratories and scientists around the world continue to conduct experiments with candles to learn more about candle flames, emissions and combustion. Just no one cares about people who buy candles just to look at them intact.
Candles have been empowered by certain religions and we know some psychics use them. Spare me the woo-woo here. The ancients may have been fascinated with light and if it takes a flame to get G-d's attention, I actually think something is wrong.
But here's where the kid got me: "Mom," she said, "Why can't you just enjoy it?" Nailed, right to the wick on that one.