I distinctly remember the fireplace at my Grandma and Grandpa’s house.
Every Christmas we’d make the long pilgrimage up from wherever we were living at the time to the north-east and extended family festivities. We’d spend the night of Christmas Day in a travel lodge somewhere about halfway up (glorious Grantham!) and then have Christmas Day mk ii with grandparents and the rest of the Thompson and Dumble clans.
Anyhow, back to the fire place.
It wasn’t particularly spectacular, it wasn’t that beautiful. It simply did the the job it was designed for. My brother and I would take turns going out to the coal bunker to get more fuel for it to burn away and turn the living room into a toasty-warm, sleep-inducing zone.
The coals would burn away, releasing their energy, warming us all up after a day spent leaning into brisk winds or being caught by the wind-whipped sea spray on the front at Whitley Bay or Tynemouth.
Bringing warmth, bringing light.
Long after the flame splutters into life, beyond the spectacular, all-consuming blaze, comes the settled business of heat generation.
The fuel is still being consumed, energy is still being released…but the fire is no longer dramatic and eye catching.
It settles down.
The fire is no longer dramatic. It doesn’t really catch the eye. It operates in the background, a kind of rhythm that you become accustomed to. When you do notice it, there’s an almost hypnotic quality to its movement, something you can spend hours watching, losing yourself.
It can still burn, it can still harm. It will still consume anything it comes into contact with.
Sometimes we can persuade ourselves that it is only the eye catching, dramatic stuff, that counts. That’s what really makes the difference. And if we don’t have that, then, well, what’s the point. We become addicts for experiences that give us the high that we first encountered when we allowed ourselves to be ‘fanned into flame’, scratching around for something, anything, that will give us the same buzz. But when we can’t find the next fix, we begin to doubt that what we once knew ever really happened. Something must be wrong with us. Something must be broken. Maybe we’ve got the wrong fuel, or the equipment we’re using is somehow malfunctioning.
We may even move into a darker place, where we experience nothing at all. A place that feels more empty than full, a place of doubt and uncertainty.
But still. In the background, perhaps just in the corner of our peripheral vision the flame is still working away. Burning, consuming, glowing.
Nothing spectacular, nothing dramatic.
But still burning, consuming, glowing. Bringing warmth, bringing light. Still capable of changing us and those we encounter. Still full of hope despite, or even perhaps because of, doubt and uncertainty.
Maybe it isn’t about being exciting. Maybe it isn’t about being explosive.
Perhaps our reality is about being here, being where we should be and still burning away, bringing light and hope into our little parts of this vast universe.
We can still change our world. It just might take a bit longer, and require a bit more patience.
And perhaps, along the way, we may have incredible experiences that we would never have noticed if all had been spectacular and dramatic.
Something I learnt a while back is that the fire is actually at its most effective when it’s at this stage. It’s not wasting energy on flames, but turning it all into heat. It’s changing the temperature, not just looking pretty.
That’s worth thinking on for a while, isn’t it?