April won't smile. It is gray and wet. Gray and cold. Gray and pine green. Only pine green; the blossoms and shoots that should be sprouted cannot stand the cold. The wind makes more noise than it should for how little the branches move; but its breath is cold and constant. The kind of cold that settles underneath my fleece hoodie and makes me wish I was wearing wool socks. Rain has veiled the neighborhood for hours, as thickly as Utah rain can veil anything. Cold, unremitting, all-but-invisible rain. And now the wind picks up even more, and the bare branches quiver in it.
No wonder I feel restive. Pensive. A contradiction. But perfect sense.
I'm editing another book. Finally. I haven't for a few weeks. It's not like the other books I work with, even the nonfiction ones. Slow, deliberate, wordy. And yet quiet at the same time. Like I imagine fishing must be. No explosions or throbbing romance or even life-threatening problems. Told in first-person, present tense. Like an old medicine man talking to himself. At first I didn't like it. But it has grown on me. Comfortable, like deep and steady breathing. A little refreshment in the frenetic. All about slowing down. Letting things take their course. Trusting that life will work out.
I sat and stared into a fire for hours last night. Just a small fire; hardly big enough to take even the edge off the cold. I had watched my friend start it—probably the first time in my life I've ever really paid attention to the starting of a fire.
It wasn't the easy, strike-a-match-and-stand-back process I expected it to be. He set the wood and paper (old school notes) just so, poured on some lighter fluid, struck a match, watched the flames lick the paper and taste the wood. Added more wood and paper and lighter fluid. Struck another match. Watched. And repeated this cycle. Bent over the pile and blew. Scrounged around for smaller sticks and twigs to whet the fire's appetite. Repeated this. Again. And again. For half an hour I watched him feed the fire with the patience of experience. I noted how much effort this small fire took to build and keep alive, the almost artistic placement of every element for utmost effect. And thought of how applicable it all was to life. Unconveniently applicable.
I thought a lot last night as I stared into the fire. Talked a little. Laughed a little. Ate marshmallows with Reeses' cups melted inside, squeezed between graham crackers. But mostly I stared and thought and tried to keep warm. Thought about plans evaporated, roads untaken, and the general question mark life seems to be. Tried to erase it into a simple period.
There's nothing like staring into a fire for airing out the mind and figuring out life—or figuring out how much about life you have to figure out. That's as far as I got last night. My friend and I talked a little. About disappointments and hopes in our separate lives. I tried to figure out the big questions a little more — what to be, who to pursue, how to experience things, the nature of success, happiness, contentment, answers. Wished it was as easy as striking a match. All silently. Listening to the conversation of those around me; chiming in at the right moments. But mostly reflecting. Thinking about the book I'm editing and its philosophy that if you slow down, be patient, you experience more, and things just take their normal course.
I wondered if I could really believe that. Wished to; feared, though, to be taken in and left behind. Time waits for no man, after all.
A few hours in, another friend started to put out the fire. It was colder, and I hated to have to return from the world I was figuring out within those flames. I watched the embers die for ten minutes while he prodded them carefully with a hot dog stick. The rain misted down almost the moment we stood up from our camp chairs.
And hasn't stopped since.
I think about the rain and the fire this weekend and the archetypes of new life. And wish for the elements to bring a new, bright start to something for me tomorrow. The poet, the writer, child, tower-bound princess in me does. Hopes a little that that's all it will take. A flash of fire, a drop of rain—harbingers of something new, exciting and right. A little fire and rain and thought. Like reading it all in a story.
The pragmatic, forward-striding part of me says it takes more than metaphor to change things, to progress, no matter how much wishful thinking is involved. And I agree with both sides of me; tiredly, but resolved. Anticipate another step forward and the new experiences I will meet and think and write about and that will change, again, my perspective on reality and my life plans. A steady, soft, slow eroding of the unnecessary to make the true shape of my life shine. Until it all shapes into something right.
Ironic as it sounds, it's true. Even when things don't work out, I know Someone will take care of me as long as I play by the rules. Jagged turns and sudden twists, disorienting changes in direction and rude jerks the other way, even flooded roads and burned bridges, become just more microscopic variations in a straight and patient line in the bird's-eye view of things. That's still the quickest way to any destination, even the one you don't know you're trying to get to.
I feel like a mole, an ant, most of the time. Bird's eye is not my view. But I know Someone sees it that way and has an interest in what happens to me. And is helping the blind child get to the right place. Regardless of how many fire-and-rain/ending-and-rebirth cycles it takes.
Something in me trusts that.