When a candle burns down, it won’t feel pain. Perhaps it’s pleasure that crosses its mind, or maybe it’s something we can’t fathom, or perhaps it’s nothing at all. The candle has a purpose, and that is to melt down by the power of the fire, to provide light in darkness and maybe even a bit of heat for those who truly need it. The flickering of a dying light, as cast by the candles on vacant walls, is a form of magic: transitioning from something alive to the deepest state of death in mere moments, a love letter to ghostly stories, and a sign that it’s time to close one’s eyes and continue the journey from the awakened state to dreamland. Every day, we’re like that candle, that light. As we fall asleep — hopefully under the embrace of warm blankets and a comfortable pillow — we’re reminded that this might be the last time our fire burns brightly, at least somewhere in the background before the eyelids are down.
Since childhood, I’ve had a problem when falling asleep, and the thought of death is always with me. I’m not afraid of death or dying or whatever will happen afterward; it’s the sign of me being alive that scares me. Well, scared is an exaggeration. But as I lie with my head down on the pillow, to the right, on my side, I always hear it pounding within: the pulse. The heart. The body at work. If I turn my head the other direction, it becomes silent, but a broken rib, never healed correctly, makes it an uncomfortable way of sleeping, and I turn back to the other side where the pulse greets me once again. As a kid, I was afraid to listen to it. Will it stop while I’m listening? Will the candle burn out in front of my eyes, and will the last remains of my consciousness flicker away as shadows on the wall? Where does this fear come from, the fear of a beating heart? Maybe from Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of the Moon,” a vinyl my parents listened to a lot when I was young? No, it’s not that. Instead, it’s the 1972 vinyl recording of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart,” in a Swedish reading by Stig Järrel. It gave me nightmares, I guess, and the sound of that beating heart will always haunt me, even if it’s my own organ at work.
Maybe, when I’ve laid down to sleep, with my right ear on the pillow, it’s Poe’s beating heart under the floorboards I hear, the beats of the unavoidable end. However, I’m not afraid anymore — like I was in my childhood. I’m ready to melt away, to let the fire flicker away. And the day it happens, it will be fine, it will be okay. I’m at peace with it. Here’s the thing with existence: you’re this candle. It can be thin or thick. Short or long, in a church or some other kind of religious altar. Maybe a candle already put on someone else’s grave, or maybe one of the tiny colorful candles gracing a child’s birthday cake. Candles in the candelabra whose fire reveals the mad scientist — or maybe the beautiful maiden gliding down the winding staircase. It doesn’t matter in the end because the candle will disappear, dissolve into nothing. During that time, before the inevitable end, it serves a purpose for a moment or two, and that purpose is all that matters. No, the meaning of it all doesn’t have to be something spectacular, just to give a bit of warmth in a cold environment or shine a light when it’s at its darkest.
A naked wax candle, a towering paraffin lighthouse, a tealight inside a protective glass shell. It’s all you. Protect what you are, and let it shine. So, does a candle feel pain when it’s burning? The candle has, as stated above, a purpose, and it will gladly accept the destiny it’s set out to live — just because it’s aware of it, and the reality tunnel it’s in. The awareness of the upcoming shadows on the wall, the remains of what once was, makes it all worth it. So don’t worry, please don’t. Be that candle, fire up and spread warmth. That’s what I set out to do, as much as possible, even if cold winds sometimes threaten to end it all. We all know how strong the fire is, and it — and you and I and us — will survive until it’s time to say goodbye.
Fred Andersson is a Swedish story producer, researcher and writer with over twenty years of experience in commercial television and the author of four books. He lives in Märsta, outside Stockholm, with his photographer husband Grzegorz and two overly active cats. Join him on Twitter and Instagram.