A few days ago my seven year old Wesley said to me, “Mommy, I think we need a tradition just for our family. It can be called ‘First Fire’ -- when we light a fire in the fireplace for the first time.” I thought it was brilliant. We waited until it got really cold and windy outside (and it just so happened that the moon was full, making it feel even more “official”).
Rituals are very important – we all have them -- even for people who think they don’t like ritualistic or liturgical worship or events. Even for people who have no identified faith traditions. We all participate in certain rituals in our lives even if we make them up.
To see me in fall you’d think I was a pagan who worshipped pumpkins and fall decorations. No, I don’t dance crazily around a blazing fire. But I do celebrate seasonal changes with the bounty from that harvest, be it colorful leaves, pumpkins, gourds and nut-filled glass vases in autumn (yes I go to the trouble to collect them) or bittersweet berry branches, Nandina, cypress greens and waxed magnolias in winter. Or forsythia (that I force into bloom), daffodils and cherry blossoms in spring. Summer’s easy with so much in bloom; I have to say gardenias and hydrangeas are my favorite. And then there’s food. Who couldn’t love the Macintosh apples and Scuppernong grapes that hit the grocery stores in September, or the pumpkin and potato soups and meat stews to be made and savored in winter? Or fruit smoothies, fruit pies and endless fresh produce in spring and summer? These are just celebrations of nature’s cycles.
Wesley was not living in a modern microcosm of smart phones, social media or “to do” lists; he was feeling close to the earth and wanting something to celebrate. Who can blame him? We all need things we can rejoice over – as Julia Roberts’ character said in the film “Eat Pray Love”: “I just want to go some place where I can marvel at something”. Don’t we adults lose that fervor for life somewhere along the path? Especially those of us are task-oriented and who seem to get a lot accomplished? Experiencing life in all its color, both light and dark, doesn’t happen when you live in the future (i.e. constantly on the go, planning, planning, planning, shuttling, shopping online, micromanaging logistics for Christmas…). Not that any of those things are inherently bad – it’s just when we don’t carve out a “pause” for BEING. Who is as much to blame for this as anyone? Moi. It’s so hard with so many distractions and demands pulling you in all directions.
As the passion of young flames calms down as the wood burns, the fire becomes hotter and more mesmorizing. It's the kind of dark, quiet one can get lost in. Settled but fluid, constantly moving. Our Labrador Chelsea (may she rest in peace) used to sit and stare into it for long periods of time. I often wondered what was going through her head.
Wesley’s simple suggestion was a great reminder to me to slow down. We lit the fire last night, amidst lots of silly, grandeur from the mom like, “And now we draw from the ancient and noble traditions of our ancestors and pass the gift of fire lighting down to the youngest of the tribe, who will honor his forbears to carry to torch to future generations…” as I gave him the gas flame torch to click on the logs. And speaking of enrichment, the hot chocolate that ensued was enriched with all kinds of unnecessary but highly celebratory additions like sugar, cream, caramel sauce, and marshmallows ….to make it really worth it.