Their hair smelled of woodsmoke, their fingers were sticky with marshmallow. Firelight danced and flickered on their faces as she made up a song about roasting marshmallows and he strategically added a few of them to the top of a log, so we could watch them swell to the size of baseballs and flame high and turn black. The stars turned themselves on and the full moon cast the yard in silver.
A school night transformed into a moment. An occasion.
We’ve been living this week like it’s something special, because it is. Larger than our everyday life, and that’s fine – every day can’t be a parade or a carnival. But there haven’t been many moments like last night, even though it took almost no effort to make it happen, and it was painfully apparent how much we needed it. It was on my kids’ faces, and in their voices, strung high and tight on sugar and euphoria and the need for a night around a fire. Any fire, anything that burns brighter than the low flame of routine.
I’ve been doing the least amount to get by, to get from the start of a day to the end. Here, I can’t say I’ve been as open as I want to be, offering you just what I’ve skimmed from the surface where the sun and the sky reflect something lighter and prettier than what lies beneath. It’s not that what’s beneath the surface is a roiling mess of despair. It’s cool and dark there, and mostly still. I can spread my arms and touch nothing, or curl myself into something small and quiet. Oh, the quiet.
From there, I can look and see nothing beyond the next five minutes or the next hour, I don’t look ahead to the moments five years into the future or even a year. Those dangle just out of focus, like a blur of holiday lights from a distance.
It’s not that I don’t want to get to those moments, because I do, very much. I’m hard-wired to want to know what happens next, to know how it all turns out. This sadness of mine isn’t the kind that will shut me down, it just makes it harder to get to back to the surface. Like swimming when hypothermia starts to set in.
But living that way takes a toll on all of us, especially my children. They’re good at making their own fun, so it’s not that I feel responsible for entertaining them at all times. But it takes nothing – nothing – to make something sweet or fun out of a day. I owe it to my kids to carve something lovely from these days, days that have a finite number attached to them, even if I don’t know that number. Every day, one less.
So what am I waiting for? Some day in the future when the world will suddenly turn itself on, all bright lights and the glint of sun on snow and a road that’s empty from end to end just waiting for me? Why do I let life happen in rooms with the shades drawn?
Goethe said, “What is important in life is life, and not the result of life,” and I agree with him.
So it’s a bit of luck that I am saved by the little things, simple things.
Like the smell of woodsmoke in the hair of my children. My daughter dancing in the yard and singing about marshmallows. Her laugh bubbling up from her belly. The sight of a cloud of freckles on my son’s cheek, or catching the first glimpse of him after school when he’s carrying his violin case and talking to his friends. An hour at the lake, my kids feeding the ducks. My son discovering the interactive properties of marshmallows and fire. My girl stopping to make a fervent wish on the first star, a thing she does because I taught her how.
Or the moment that happened last night around midnight when I went outside to douse what was left of the fire in the firepit. I walked into the yard to look up at the full moon and to fill my lungs with the clean, sweet night air.
I stood there for maybe ten seconds – ten seconds – before a shooting star blew across the sky above me, like it was just for me, a flare that my soul sent up, past the surface of this cool, dark place.
A sign that the fire burns, that the world is ablaze, always was. And will be.
There was nothing to do but swim to the surface and make a wish.