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Lighting a Fire

A message about life

Teddy bear by a fireplace
Everyone love a fire!

It’s early winter. All the leaves have fallen from the willow by the pond and it's now a sculpture of bare branches against heavy grey skies. There’s a chill in the late afternoon air. We don beanies and boots for our walk.

When we get back to the house we light the fire. It roars with paper and sticks, then settles into a steady red glow in the corner of the room, offering warmth and hot water for our showers. And something else. A message about life.

The message comes late in the evening, when the flames no longer dance but merely flick and lick quietly around the blackened pieces of wood. Then that too ceases. It looks like the fire has gone out. I get up, stretch, reach for the poker, open the door of the firebox and prod the dark remnants. And get a shock.

What I thought was dead is alive. The burnt wood tumbles in a shower of sparks. A flame leaps. Coals glow. There’s life in the old fire. It still has energy to burn. Still has enough life to do what has to be done to finish the job.

A definition from Wikipedia: Fire is the rapid oxidation of a material in the exothermic chemical process of combustion, releasing heat, light, and various reaction products.

I don’t recall this as I sit back in the chair and watch the fire I assumed had gone out. Instead, I recall two lines of poetry from 'The Windhover':

. . . and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear, Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.

Because it was written by the Victorian Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, the poem has religious overtones. But whenever I recall those words, what comes to me is a reminder of the latent energy in all of us.

When we think we have nothing left to give, we still do.

When we fall, fail, stumble, tumble — ah my dear — that’s when we shine brightest.

That’s when, despite it all, we gash gold-vermillion.

We shower the world with light and warmth once more.

With love, Marlane

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