time goes away

we had a couple hours before the concert was to start.  we had been walking around the city, taking in various sights and experiences.  we'd been to churches and museums and concerts.  it was christmastime, and the city was glowing with an energy that came from more than just the elaborate decorations.  it was vienna in december.  and somehow every day felt just like christmas eve.

and now we were standing outside the palace gates.  our legs were beginning to ache a bit from the standing after all the walking we had been doing.  so we started our way around the cobblestone courtyard.  there was a church at the other end.  nothing fancy.  in other words it seemed to be still a church and not a museum.  it was old, but mostly plain.  still very beautiful by any american standards.

we walked inside to the sound of soft music and a gentle warmth very much welcomed.  there were a few people walking around the church, a few in pews praying.  the light was low, mostly spreading from the illumination of the icon sculptures.  across the church a door was open with a sign outside it.  it was in german but by now i could recognize the word "markt."

the room greeted us with a delightful smell.  a few candles were lit, but it was mostly the weihnachtsapfelwein--a christmas cider that is delightful.  there was also a smaller pot for the kinder apfelwein, for the kids or the not so alcohol inclined.  steam was rising from both kettles.  a few old and very austrian looking women sat behind tables.  and then there were the christmas goods.

all around vienna and most eurpoean cities there are christmas markets.  little stands are set up in several places around town and they are filled with christmas items--usually small handmade crafts or like items.  others have food and crepes and apfelwein.  they are really delightful.  but they are also usually crowded and a little touristy.

but this little room was not at all.  it was out of the way, no signs outside the church for it.  through my very limited german i was able to learn that it was a fundraiser for the church.  i'm a sucker for christmas stuff and for unique treasures, so this place was like the X that wasn't on the map.  my favorite were the candles.  they were white with christmas scenes painted the outside, all handcrafted by the little old lady sitting behind the decorated display table. 

at this point it was late in my time abroad, and i was already wondering how i was going to be able to get all my stuff back.  that and the candles weren't exactly the cheapest items.  i searched through the various candles while sipping my cider.  i tried to ask the lady about the candles but she didn't speak very much english at all.  her smile said more than her words.  after much deliberation i picked one out, and so did my companion.  as she was wrapping up our candles she pulled out two little small candles with baby Jesus on them and wrapped them, putting them in our bag.

"oh how much?"

she shook her hand at me and smiled, handing me the bag.  i thanked her profusely and she just smiled.

i don't know what it was about this interaction that has stuck with me so long.  maybe she did this for all of her customers and it was nothing special.  or maybe she saw us and understood.  she knew that we were american visitors and that we had happened to stumble into their little church.  i'm sure from my painful agonizing over several candles she realized we didn't have much money.  and maybe since we couldn't communicate in any other way, she gave us a gift to try and say something more.  and trying to put that gift into words now just wouldn't work.


i have these candles now in my room.  i put them out because it's christmastime of course.  but there they sit--they are a reminder of this encounter three years ago and of so much else.  they have taken the place of the candles i wrote about a little while ago.  and especially as i think back over what i wrote then, i'm left with the question, "do i burn these?"

what is a candle for if you will never light it?  the object holds the memory and represents a lot, but then do i keep these candles forever and never burn them?  are they just a display then?  or would their burning in a way consummate the experience. 

how do we hold the past?  how do we accept our memories with gratefulness and not miss what they gave us at the time?  i remember something like this and it makes me want to go back.  it creates a longing in me.  so then do i hold onto these candles for what they were, or for what they are now--the only piece of that experience that i can physically see and touch now?

i'm sure your answers may vary on whether or not you out there are packrats or purgers, nostalgics or anticipators, rememberers or adventurers.  but what do you think?  should i burn the candles or save them?


  1. Burn them!!! a candle's purpose is wasted if it's not used in a way it was meant to be used. burn it and remember that even a city on a hill cannot be hidden!

    "This little light of mine"

  2. I think you should save them, that way you can use them for decoration in later years. What if 20 years down the road you are digging through some old boxes, and you run across them and it takes you back... back to "that time."

    Save them.