My daughter Mary gave me a plaque on Christmas Eve – it looks like the words are engraved on marble.  As I started to write this I thought that it was probably mass-produced in China in a huge plastic molding machine, but when I turned it over it actually says: “PLQ: Light A Candle White Marble.”  So maybe it is marble–there is quite a heft to it.  But it also says “designed in Atlanta made in China.”  Do those Chinese  somehow cut rectangles of marble and somehow engrave them individually?  En masse?  It is a cause for wonder.

Anyhow, it is a very nice plaque and already one of my favorite things.  It reads: It Is Better To Light A Candle Than Curse The Darkness.  When I opened the package and first read the words Mary said, “Remember the curtains?”

“Curtains?”  “What Curtains?”  “Remember what curtains?”  I see no connection between the plaque and  curtains.  Apparently at sometime in the long forgotten past we had white curtains which, according to Mary, had words at the bottom reading “It is better to light a candle” on one side and “Than to curse the darkness” on the other side.  I have no recollection of any such thing.  We had so little money that if we had any curtains in the house at all they were unlikely to have  been purchased at a store other than the Salvation Army Thrift Store.  They must have been kitchen curtains.  Conceivably they were made out of old sheets and I wrote those words there myself.   Who knows?  That sounds like me back then.

The next day I asked son Johnny about the curtains.  He remembers them, too.  They were kitchen curtains, he thinks I made them myself, and he recalls tomatoes on the window sill. Those curtains could have been forty years ago!    When you’re raising seven kids some things get lost in the shuffle but you’d think I would remember something I was so involved in.

The point is:   Mary remembered.   Johnny remembered.  The words registered.  They found them meaningful.  You can never tell when you’re raising a kid what is going to hit home and linger on.

Way back when I was in eighth grade we used to say the Twenty-Third Psalm every morning at school.  That  was permissible in public schools in those days.    I doubt that it was mandated as we learned nothing else religious in the other grades.  Maybe I had a Christian teacher who was allowed to do her thing.  As children, we never questioned. I learned the psalm as almost meaningless rote words.  To this day I can almost say the whole psalm from memory.   As an adult I find it beautiful – and comforting.

The moral is:    Keep filling those kids with good things. They come as empty vessels, blank slates.   Be careful about what goes into those vessels.  Think about what is being written on those slates.  Something is bound to stick and it might as well be something that will serve them well when it surfaces in the future and grabs hold.

This brings to mind the Jesuit maxim, sometimes attributed to St. Ignatius of Loyola:  Give me the child till the age of seven and I will show you the man.

It’s better to light just one little candle
Than to stumble in the dark
Better far that you light just one little candle
All you need’s a tiny spark

If we’d all say a prayer that the world would be free
The wonderful dawn on the new day we’ll see
And if everyone lit just one little candle
What a bright world this would be.
—Perry Como, 1952


  Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.  Luke 2:19