Campfire Musings on Life

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“Ohhhh!” A spark snaps from the embers and sizzles through the fleecy fabric of my shirt. I have a few sweatshirts and jackets that have been similarly annointed.  It’s just one of the hazards of sitting too close to a campfire — something I’ve been doing on summer nights for decades.

Fire

I love a campfire… its cheery crackling,  flickering colours, and toasty warmth. Oh, and S’mores, foil-wrapped potatoes (or cobs of corn) baked in the coals, flame-charred popcorn… what’s not to like? Fire is wonderful… that is, if it doesn’t get out of control. When I see scenes of forest fire devastation on TV, or drive through areas of blackened sticks that were once lush evergreen trees, and crumbled foundations of what were once homes, I am reminded of how fragile our control is over life and the environment.

Something else on television reminded me of that this week, too — the posthumous video made by Canadian microbiologist Dr. Donald Low, an advocate of assisted suicide. He isn’t the first dying person to argue for ‘the right to die with dignity’, that it’s his body and he has the right to say what happens to it and how his life will end. The weakness in that argument, at least from my perspective, is that our bodies are not ours. Even those who don’t believe in God can’t say they chose to be conceived, when or how they would be born, or what bodies they would have for the duration of their lifetime.

Life is a gift.  I didn’t always see it that way, but as a Christian, I’ve come to understand mine is a gift from God, infused with uniqueness and lent to me for my life’s duration. It is to be used much as in the Parable of the Talents* where the owner’s gold was put into the care of his stewards during his absence, to be used wisely and not wasted.

At life’s end I trust that the knowledge he has given to those in the medical profession will be used to keep me as comfortable as humanly possible until God decides it is my time to return to him.

Dignity isn’t found in legal lethal drugs. Who needs dignity, anyway. After all, what was dignified about the way we came into this life?

*

I push my camp chair back a bit from the fire. The flames mesmerize me with their layers of colour. The hottest blaze blue and fiery embers darken, while newness flashes yellow white. Tiny flicks of rich colour feed from an unknown source, burn brightly and are soon gone.

Even as I loll in the welcome warmth, the bucket of lake water sits close by, ready to douse any wayward sparks. I may not have control over lightning strikes, but I am responsible for this circle of fire created by my own hand.

~

“Do you not know that your bodies
are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you,
whom you have received from God?
You are not your own.”

1 Corinthians 6:19
* Matthew 25:14-28

~  ~  ~

Resolutions and the Journey of Life and Writing

When I’m driving you can be sure I’m focused on the road ahead. I see the twists and turns, the potholes in the pavement, the mileage or street signs. I watch for pedestrians, traffic signals, and other vehicles. I don’t do a lot of sightseeing. That’s why, on a longer journey, I enjoy being the passenger, not the driver. I like to check out the scenery.

Of course, if I were the driver I could stop and get out whenever I wanted to take a photograph instead of having to snap through the windshield as scenes whiz past, which is the case when my husband is driving. He’s very focused on reaching our destination in the shortest possible time.

There are many quotations that compare both life and writing to a journey. One comes from Steven Tyler who said, “Life’s a journey, not a destination.” I agree with him, to a point. Life and writing are progressive activities. They are pursuits that should bring us a sense of pleasure and satisfaction. Unfortunately, without some kind of goal in mind they are purposeless. I can’t imagine getting into a car and driving for days to nowhere in particular even if I might enjoy the view along the way.

At the start of a new year many people make resolutions that include admirable goals. (I hasten to add that I don’t make resolutions; I don’t like setting myself up for failure and too often lofty goals are unattainable. As I mentioned in a blog post last year, I prefer to have intentions. “Intentions involve more commitment than a wish or desire, but don’t involve a self-inflicted promise. So if I don’t manage to achieve everything I intend, the disappointment won’t be too demoralizing.”)

Setting realistic goals may be more conducive to success, but how do I differentiate between realistic and unrealistic?

Unrealistic goals are usually the ‘someday’ kind… the dreams you have that require an unlikely coincidence or someone else’s intervention before they can possibly come true.  Realistic goals are ones you can make happen without any help. For instance, I might say that some day I’d like to own a racehorse that will win the Triple Crown; or I’d like to write a novel that will be on the New York Times Bestsellers List. Both are possible accomplishments but not from my current position. Both would require a lot of preparatory work but even then would depend on circumstances over which I have no control. On the other hand, owning a top quality, well-conditioned racehorse, or writing a well-crafted novel might be within my sight with the right amount of commitment.

Whatever the task ahead of me, even if it’s something I could do, I may be so overwhelmed at the immensity of it that I’m unable to make a start. To quote Michael Ehret, Editor-in-Chief for the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild, Small successes build confidence.” Whether it’s major weight loss, finding money for a racehorse, writing a novel or just cleaning the basement, if I break a job down into reasonable components and tackle just one feasible portion at a time, I’m pretty sure I can eventually accomplish the whole project without anyone’s help. I just have to make a start.

It’s ironic that Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “I hate quotations. Tell me what you know,” yet his writings are the source of much-quoted bits of wisdom. One that I like is: “As long as a man stands in his own way, everything seems to be in his way.”

Another of my favourites is by Mike DeWine: One of the most important things that I have learned in my fifty-seven years is that life is all about choices. On every journey you take, you face choices. At every fork in the road, you make a choice. And it is those decisions that shape our lives.”

And then there is the famous one from Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu, A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

I could wrap up these mental meanderings in a nice neat summary, but I suspect you get the point.

Do you have a realistic goal in mind for 2011? What steps will you take to achieve it?

Taking a Closer Look

I do it all the time. I hurry along, busy with daily trivia, looking at things as I go but not really seeing them. I’m physically there, but not focused on my surroundings. You know how it is when you glance at something and later can’t remember what it looked like?

Fifteen years ago our family holidayed on the Queen Charlotte Islands (Haida Gwaii). While there we celebrated my birthday, and my eight-year-old granddaughter gave me a jar of pebbles collected on a beach below Tow Hill near the northern tip of Graham Island. The jar had also been filled with water because only when they were wet did the rocks display their hidden beauty. For me it was a priceless gift.

That jar of rocks still sits on my china cabinet shelf, and it still has a trace of the original water in it. The rocks glisten with the residue of condensation. I treasure this simple gift because of the giver’s loving heart, but also because those rocks are a constant reminder of the beauty all around me that too often goes unnoticed.

I’m not much of a photographer but am forever snapping photos, often without looking beyond the lens to see the miracle of detail. How often have I captured the picture of a gurgling stream or lakeside vista without stooping to discover the treasures at my feet? How often have I bypassed ordinary rocks without washing off the dust to reveal their true beauty?

 

While we’re rushing through life we miss living.

~

Slow Me Down Lord

(Wilferd Arlan Peterson)

 

Slow me down, Lord!

Ease the pounding of my heart
by the quieting of my mind.

Steady my harried pace
with a vision of the eternal reach of time.

Give me,
amidst the confusions of my day,

The calmness of the everlasting hills.

 

Break the tensions of my nerves

With the soothing music of the singing streams

That live in my memory.

Help me to know
the magical power of sleep.

 

Teach me the art
of taking minute vacations,

Of slowing down

To look at a flower;

To chat with an old friend or make a new one;

To pat a stray dog;

To watch a spider build a web;

To smile at a child;

Or to read a few lines from a good book.

 

Remind me each day
that the race is not always to the swift;

That there is more to life than increasing its speed.

 

Let me look upward
into the branches of the towering oak

And know that it grew great and strong

Because it grew slowly and well.

 

Slow me down, Lord,

And inspire me to send my roots deep

Into the soil of life’s enduring values

That I may grow toward the stars
of my greater destiny.

~

 

Discovering the Shadows

Writing discoveries sometimes come from strange sources. Late last week I wandered around our yard on a sunny afternoon, noting the decline of summer perennials and enjoying the few remnants of late fall colours.

The lilac leaves that usually provide a rich burgundy display were turning from green to yellow to dead on the ground.  A vine maple – wild, and the only one that has stretched its way into the garden from the neighbouring woods – was layered with red on top and bright yellow in the protected areas underneath. The burning bush shrub had yet to show signs of changing colour at all. And the Japanese maple near the post box was rapidly discarding its spiky pumpkin orange foliage.

Later as I sorted through the afternoon’s photos, I was disappointed to discover some were anemic even though the exposure was correct, while others were rich with colour and texture. It took me a minute to realize that shadows within the depths made the difference. Shadows enriched the sun-drenched colour.

That’s true in life, too, and also in our writing. Life’s shadows provide a backdrop to help us appreciate the highlights. In writing, the deeper nuances add subtleties to our characters and plots.

Do you search beneath the surface in life and writing for deeper meaning and enrichment?


Looking and Seeing

Seeing is a relative thing. A blind person may see things better than a sighted one simply because eyes can’t be depended upon to provide a mental image. Instead the object or view must be experienced to be fully observed.

That’s one reason why I sometimes write with my eyes closed – so I can put myself into the midst of my words and “see” the person or the scene more clearly in my mind.

I was reminded of this yesterday as I read Sandra Heska King’s post entitled “Deep See Diving” in which she said, “Lately, I’ve been prone to wander off the path to see. To see deep. To deep see dive. Seeking. Wondering at the mysterious and the marvelous. Finding joy in the sacred.”

Like all artists, writers must see deeply to produce their best work, but it doesn’t end there. I believe Christian authors have an even greater need to search beyond the surface.  That’s where God builds the foundation of our life story, one brick, one thought, one prayer at a time.

It’s too easy to live each day immersed in trivialities, oblivious to the significant. Instead, we must search beyond the obvious to discover the real story waiting to be written, both on the page and in our lives.

Look Where You’re Going!

“Look out!” and “Look where you’re going!” are common admonitions given to someone who is likely to stumble on an obstacle or uneven pathway. But taken literally it means so much more than just watching where you put your feet.

 

If we would frequently raise our eyes to the horizon might we not be more aware of our progress and any potential opportunities during the course of the journey? No doubt the view would also be superior to what we see while staring down at those feet that are shackled in the mire of today’s temporary dilemmas.

 

Photo credit: HJG

Photo credit: HJG

 

Whether in life or in writing there is something to be said for keeping our attention focused on the destination.