I love to watch the tendril of smoke rise from a candle recently blown out. The smoke is so responsive to the merest whiff of air and the pattern is never the same. The remaining smoke from the still barely-glowing wick stretches to the ceiling and spreads farther than one expects. Then, without a sound the last glow winks out and soon the smoke disperses.
It is not all beauty, of course, especially if you do not like smoke. While the flame provided light or ambiance, the smoke just lingers and catches in one’s throat. Far easier to cut it short with a quick, sizzling squeeze with spit-gloved fingers.
This was brought to mind recently as I read Matthew’s quotation of Isaiah regarding the Messiah, “A battered reed he will not break off, and a smoldering wick he will not put out.” (Matthew 12:20 from Isaiah 42:3). It seems the Messiah is not into making quick, painless work of the wounded and dwindling.
Our society has not much time for the bruised reed and the smoldering wick. Euthanasia and assisted suicide are quickly becoming not only widely accepted but even socially expected. Doctors counsel abortion to parents of babies with birth defects. The prospect of an imperfect life and our final days of senility or illness are regarded as unproductive and noxious as the smoldering wick. The obvious solution is to cut the slow burn short with a quick, syringe squeeze with latex-gloved fingers.
In our quickness to dispense with the bruised and smoldering among us, we may be well served to recall that elsewhere in Scripture our lives are described as “a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James 4:14). Perhaps we should not be too quick to clear our lives of the too-long lingering mists of the lives of others.
I was blessed to be with my grandfather in his waning days. Amazingly, as his wick smoldered, his memory re-fired and I heard stories from his youth that he had never shared in our many years together. To be sure, those last weeks were difficult. But the pattern of beauty that rose from the smoldering wick of his life lingers in my vision to this day.