beach fire

When I feel lack in my life, my chest constricts, I don’t breathe deep and I create a little cloud of gray worry that lives above my head.

I begin to doubt myself and my place in the world. It’s amazing how quickly an event or series of obstacles can pull me into a place of fear.

But I had a lovely lesson about lack at the ocean last Sunday.

I was with my daughter, Kristen, her partner Kenny, and ten year old Isabella. We’d had a full day of playing in the surf, walking on the beach and climbing over shell-encrusted boulders.

It was time to drive back to Portland but Kenny wasn’t ready. He needed one more walk on the coast, so we filed down the stairs next to the sea wall at Cannon Beach and let the sunset wash over us in radiant shafts of orange, amber and red. 

I wish we had a fire, Kenny said. It’s a perfect night for one.

People had wrapped themselves in sweatshirts and jackets to roast marshmallows and hot dogs, while warming their hands and feet near the flames. They had come prepared with large stacks of wood, papers and lighter fluid. Bonfires made little islands of blaze, up and down the shoreline.

We can’t have a fire, I said, we have nothing to make one with.

We watched the sun slip beneath that long going-on-forever line that defines the sea. It was breathtaking and full of calm. As the day faded into black, the bodies that huddled in close circles of humanity felt ancient and primitive.

We were moving toward the stairs to leave when I noticed a tiny spark of light, a small flicker in the distance, as if someone had ignited a book of matches and dropped them on the sand. The silhouette of a man on hands and knees came into view as I walked closer, his silver hair reflecting moonlight. He was bent over a small stack of twigs blowing into their base with great hope and intention. A young woman knelled beside him with an open wallet, searching for useable paper. She pulled out receipts and studied them, deciding which ones she could give to the fire and which ones must be saved.

There it was. The world’s smallest campfire made of a few broken twigs and copies of the days expenses.

I stood above them. That is the most pathetic excuse for a fire I’ve ever seen.

Yes, I know, the man laughed. I watched as he continued to blow on the base and the woman searched for more cash register tallies.

I dropped a tissue into the fire. It’s clean and dry.

Kenny caught up and became entranced as well. He bent down to help by blowing on the fire, while I searched the beach for more wood. Unfortunately, everyone had scavenged it clean, except for a few scattered twigs. Soon, their tiny fire became a group effort, with everyone searching their pockets for paper and probing the shadows for wood.

Kristen and Isabella were visiting with the rest of the family. There were new babies who were feeling sand on their fingers for the first time. Theirs was a family vacation that was coming to a close in a few hours.

I’d like to report that the fire became a raging inferno, but it never did, and in the end, it didn’t matter because we all got to help and had fun doing it.

Driving home I began thinking about how important it is to begin what we have in our hearts to do, no matter how insignificant our efforts may seem or how depleted our resources.

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