Many Fingers Make Light Work

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The lampshade shielded my eyes from flying shards of glass as the light bulb exploded in my grasping, twisting fingers.

How many clumsy husbands does it take to change a light bulb? I asked myself. Instead of new light shining in the lamp, I was left with broken glass, bits of wire, a couple of banged-up fingers, and the base of the old bulb still stuck firmly into the lamp socket. With nothing to grab and twist to get it out. On a Saturday night.

I called my brother-in-law, who works with his hands and manipulates tools with a skill approaching the artistic.

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''It's easy,'' he said. ''You take a needle-nosed plier and you open the handles until the nose is tight against the inside of the base of the bulb. You don't want to press too hard, or you'll deform the base and get it stuck even worse. Then just twist, and it should come out. You do have a needle-nosed plier, don't you?''

''I've been meaning to get one,'' I said.

''Well, tomorrow is Sunday, but there are several hardware stores that'll be open. You'll always find a use for a needle-nosed plier, even if you just need to crimp the terminal end of a wire.''

I bought the new pliers. Though the process wasn't as easy as my brother-in-law made it sound, I got the fractured bulb out and replaced it with a new one. The lamp works.

During the repair, and especially after speaking with my brother-in-law, I considered the relative utility of our professions and skills. I call my brother-in-law about pipes, faucets, furnaces, and shattered light bulbs. I am a writer. My brother-in-law, however, doesn't call me about broken sentences, frozen paragraphs, or leaking syntax.

Yet we each have our singular purposes. Keats said: ''I am convinced more and more day by day that fine writing is, next to fine doing, the top thing in the world.''

My fingers, healed, are messengers.

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