“You have to carry the fire.”
I don’t know how to.”
Yes, you do.”
Is the fire real? The fire?”
Yes it is.”
Where is it? I don’t know where it is.”
Yes you do. It’s inside you. It always was there. I can see it.”

― Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Before we each set sail on better boats, I need you to sit with me for a moment in my cabin and tell you one last story…

It’s been said that the hardest force to overcome is inertia. Newton’s first law of motion says that an object at rest will stay at rest unless acted upon by a stronger outside force. And let me assure you. There are lot of forces at work in this world trying to keep you at rest.

When I was a kid there was this big ice storm that knocked out all the power for a couple of weeks. At the time, we lived in this house that only had an electric heat pump. As you can probably figure out, when the power goes out, so does the heat. But, I was young then so I really don’t remember too much. I remember that I spent a lot of time outside sledding. I remember wrapping up in blankets because I was cold and I remember hanging out at my grandparents’ place because they had a fireplace. But I also remember that my dad made a commitment that he would never again live in a house that didn’t have wood heat. And so, when the power came back on he had a wood stove installed in our house. And every house I’ve lived in since has had a fireplace or wood stove.

But, I’m a bit of a traditionalist. When it comes to starting a fire at my place I have two rules. The first is that you can only use wood to start the fire. No paper, no lighter fluid, no starter logs. Just wood kindling.

And rule number two: You only get one match.

Now under these conditions you need a little more careful planning. I can’t just take a big wet log and throw a match on it and expect it to burn. I have to take my time and do it right the first time. Because I do a lot of wood working, I usually have a lot of wood shaving laying around. So, what I typically do is get a big handful of them and place them in stove. And then take a piece of dry cedar or pine, something that’s going to burn easily and start splitting it down to smaller and smaller pieces and I set them to the side.

Then I take a match and very carefully light it and gently place it against the wood shavings.

Then the expected happens. The shavings catch fire.

But, I can’t sit back and say, “Me man! Me make fire!” Because there isn’t enough substance in the shavings to heat my cabin. If I stop now the fire will burn out before it can radiate any real heat and its light will be nothing but a memory. But, it’s still not strong enough to throw a big log on it so I start adding the small pieces of wood to the flame. Pieces no bigger than the match I used to start it. And then I start adding a little bit bigger pieces of wood. Pieces the size of pencils. The fire is getting bigger but I still can’t stop. It’s still not enough. It’ll still go out. So, I keep tending it and adding what it needs, but never more than it can bear.

Soon a hot bed of coals begins to emerge and the fire begins to radiate its heat. It becomes stronger and emitting what I call a deeper heat, and so I add more pieces of wood larger than before and the fire continues to grow bigger and bigger.

And then, eventually the fire grows so hot and so strong that I can throw on the biggest, greenest, wettest log from the woodpile.

And even it will burn.

And it is this fire will warm my cabin through the coldest and darkest nights.

I bring this up because the same lessons apply to our lives and our communities. Whatever it is in our lives that we want to overcome, whatever boat we want to build, we have to understand that we can only start where we are and nowhere else.

We have to start where we are and not where we want to be. And we have to start making the small changes that will ultimately affect the bigger ones.

Maybe you need to get rid of some stuff. Maybe you need to get your finances in order. Maybe you need to learn how to use your hands in more productive ways. Maybe you need to learn what your next door neighbor’s name is. Whatever it is, start there. And then add to it. Start looking for the next right answer that’s taking you toward your dream and not away from it. Find it, then deal with it, and then keep moving forward. Keep breaking the inertia that makes you want to stop.

Over and over you step up and you keep adding things that are moving you toward your destination. Keep looking for the next right answer and give yourself what you need, but never more than you can bear. Keep tending your own personal fire as it grows brighter and hotter.

Then maybe in a few months or a few years, the fire that you carry will be bright enough to illuminate your world. And you can take the biggest, greenest, wettest log in your life…

…and even it will burn

But, then you have to do the next right thing. The next time that the night is cold and the rain is falling down and you hear the knock of a tired stranger at your door who is drenched and confused and alone. You can say to them, “Come, sit by my fire and warm yourself and gain the strength you need to continue on your journey.”

Some days it just seems colder than it should.

Some days it feels like all that’s wrong with the world just keeps seeping through the cracks no matter what you do to try and stop it.

The anxiety, the pain, the loneliness.

The numbness that wants to overtake you.

All those times that you tried to get up on your feet, but you just kept slipping on the ice.

Some days you just want to give up.

But you don’t give up.

Because it doesn’t matter how many times you fall down

There is a hope and there is a dream and there is a power within you that can warm the coldest nights.

But you’ve got to keep moving. You’ve got to stop telling yourself that you’ll never get it right. Stop telling yourself that you’re not good enough.

Because you were made for more than failure… and you’re stronger than this.

And you’re not alone.

Sometimes we have to experience the cold before we can really appreciate warmth.

And sometimes it’s the cold that teaches us why we need to help bring others in from it.

The End