The other night it was hot. Hot during the day, hot at night. Heat seems to define summer for us, in many ways.
But in spite of that, after a day in the outdoors, we built a fire. A small fire. A "hat" fire, which mountain people define as one you can put in your hat. Why so small? Because it was hot and we didn't need the heat. Why the fire? Because we need the fire.
It is the hearth. It is the touchstone to our past. It is a link with countless generations of ancestors who have sat here looking at the flames licking up on the chunks of firewood and taking us back endless years, countless years, to what was then. Through the flames and later the glow of the coals, we can see things that we can't see at any other time. We can hear music in the crackling. We can be comforted by the fire, which is our best friend as well as a potential destroyer, at the same time.
How many times have we looked into the flames of a small fire, just like this? It's beyond counting. Sometimes the fire has been in a fireplace with all kinds of louvers and vents and controls, and yet even then we shut off the lights and sat quietly, looking into the fire and taking ourselves back to our beginnings. It is important that we do this, so important to our emotional health that we willingly pay extra for a modern city house or apartment that has a fireplace.
It doesn't make any sense at all.
No sense at all until you look into the fire and those same questions come along. Who am I? Am I doing what I'm supposed to be doing? Is my life being spent for the right things? What more can I be doing?
Do we remember other fires in faraway places? Places where the weather is different, the animals are different, the people are different. Remember using wood from other kinds of trees? Remember sitting around the fire with others who are only with us now during these quiet times by the fire and in the sanctuary of memory?
We ask ourselves these questions, but the answers can only be found in the silent glowing of the coals, and we can only hope we stack up right in the long run.
Because when we look into the coals, at the end of a long day, it's our way of going home.