I take so many things for granted. And, I often think there aren’t many miracles in life, in the ordinariness of the day. That is, until we pay attention, until we make room for them to happen.
In the rush of daily life, I almost let this one slip past me, unnoticed.
He asked me to help build the campfire so he could get it just right. Everyone was depending on him. It had to be perfect. This was his task, and he wanted to do it perfectly. He’d never been asked to do this before. It was the most anyone had every asked him to do.
Only men built fires, and wasn’t he just a boy?
We gathered his chosen sticks of wood, dry and perfect for his fire. He picked up the kindling, methodically splintering it over his knee. Even the paper was torn just so, all arranged, ready for the match.
We had to wait, a friend had to get the matches. We had some time, and I asked him about his campfires past, who had built them, what happened around them.
It was small talk for me, until he spoke. His voice got quiet, his eyes wet, his hands shaking. No, this was big talk, big stuff, big wounds.
Only a few campfires, only a few of the only good times in his past, what he could remember of them. Most of childhood was just a fog; he couldn’t remember.
He thought this fire would fail, it would not burn, and everyone here would think he was a failure. It was the old familiar story, it was the ending that he expected. Wasn’t that the story of his life?
This was his fire, his first fire he had built. He wanted to say his dad would be proud of him, but halfway through the words, he choked, looked away, not able to say that, that dad would be proud.
The matches arrived, and I handed them to him.
“Light your fire, son,” I said. “You can do this.”
There was a spark, a small flame that grew, catching the paper and kindling he had laid so carefully, his most important task ever in his young life.
I asked him to blow on the small flame, to make it grow. And he did, a smile breaking across his face.
The fire, his fire, was ablaze, catching the big sticks, sending flames up high.
“Good job,” I said. “You did well. I’m proud of you.”
Those words, ones he had never heard before, filled the air, filled his heart. The words he had never heard, until now.
He nodded, not saying a word. The fire crackled, as we let those simple words sink in, letting him really hear them.
He built the good fire, the fire everyone liked. Soon everyone crowded around to feel its heat on this chilly morning, to cook our lunch, warm our hands and our hearts.
The others, the builder of the fire, and I sat around the fire, sharing our lunch, a few stories, our friendship.
“Great fire,” they said. “Thanks.”
He looked down at his shoes, and then at the fire, taking it all in, feeling the warmth of their praise, their thanks, warming his heart on this cold winter’s day.
His big smile lit up his face, and added more light to our day together.
A miracle, in the coldest, most ordinary of places. But that’s where miracles happen, when its cold and lonely, and you think your life isn’t all that special.
We just need to be ready to let the light in.
Neal Lemery, 12/6/2015