She quickly sips her latte and resumes chewing her pencil. Scanning the tabletop, she mentally goes through her list of equipment needed. Laptop, recorder, notebook. Check, check, check. Another glance at her wristwatch and she goes back to the bitter taste of her pencil.
A man enters the café quietly and looks around. His eyes fall on her anxious figure. With a small smile he approaches her and asks in a deep voice, “Melissa Tanner I presume?”
“Um, yes, call me Missy. Ah, please sit down.” She nearly knocks over her latte waving at the empty seat.
“Thanks.” He sits and she breathes deeply. A waiter appears and he orders a black coffee. “Have you been to this café before?” He’s making small talk, but she doesn’t mind.
“No, I’ve just started at the school this year, transferred from Bible College back home. But you’ve been here for a long time haven’t you?”
“Some would say too long I’m sure.” He smiles again, like he’s amused but doesn’t want to appear so. “I’ve been a grad student for two years now, after four years in Engineering. A perpetual student my dad says.”
“Engineering? I thought you were in Social Studies.” Her editor had told her as much, along with a list of rallies he had organized. No mention of engineering.
His coffee comes as he lifts an eyebrow at her, “No, I’m in Electrical Engineering. Social studies are just a hobby.”
“Electrical,” she repeats, writing it down. “Hence the action demanded in your petition.” She reads in her notes, “Ban All Christmas Lights on Campus. A bold and I’m guessing somewhat unpopular idea.”
He leans forward to gauge her sincerity, “Do you think so? Well, you might be surprised at the number of signatures. I assume your editor is at least marginally interested in the idea. What paper is this article for again?”
She’s dreaded that question. “The Latest Bandwagons,” she’s blushing. “It’s an on-line newsletter. I’m in journalism and have to get published before mid-term, so here I am.” She is still blushing, but he’s smiling again.
“It’s okay, don’t worry. There’s no such thing as bad publicity right? Fire away.” He waves at her notebook and recorder. She’s completely forgotten the recorder, but turns it on now nonchalantly.
“Why ban Christmas lights?”
“Energy conservation,” he leans back and crosses his arms.
“Can you expand on that - assuming I’m not writing for engineering students?” Her pencil stands at the ready.
“It’s simple. The school buildings have approximately 8000 Christmas lights. If we kept them off, we could save enough energy to light about 24 homes for a month.”
She’s scribbling in her notebook, trying to get the numbers right. Glancing up at him, she asks, “But what if we switched to LEDs?”
He sips his coffee and nods again. She mentally pats herself on the back. “At less than one watt per bulb it is a significant decrease, but completely eliminating them will result in the best savings. Would anybody really miss them?”
“What about tradition? Lights are just…part of the holiday.”
He’s squinting at her now, sizing her up in some way. Leaning forward again, he lowers his voice. “Can I ask you something in all sincerity?” She leans in as well. “Why do we put lights up anyway? Would it make any difference if they weren’t there? There seems to be no reasonable meaning or symbolism for them, and I think that the savings are significant enough to warrant ripping them down.” He finishes much louder than when he started and she’s blinking at his sudden passion.
Quiet reigns for a few moments as the recorder drones on.
She’s thinking about her home and the lights that adorn it every year, the lighting throughout her town, the strings of bulbs hanging at her church. Would she miss them? His petition doesn’t seem so silly now that she has heard his point of view. And his strange mixture of quiet seriousness and spunky passion is attractive to her.
“Maybe Christmas is something more than lights and decorations,” his deep voice is calm again, pondering. “Maybe if we take away the glitz and flashiness, we’ll be able to see what that is. There are a lot of ways to save energy, but I’m looking for answers that seem to be in the shadows.”
She’s smiling now, amused at finding herself with that golden opening. “I think I know where you can find those answers.”
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