Letting Go of the Fire

I wrote a eulogy for my father last year. It was the easiest thing I have ever written – celebrating the things I loved about him and the ways I had learnt from him. One was how to build a good fire.

I grew up in a home with warmth at its core – an Aga in the kitchen and roaring wood stoves. Nothing gave me greater pleasure than stoking a massive autumnal bonfire with my father – a man, I add, who planted more trees than anyone else I know.

Fire has been central to my life. The domestication of fire has been key to our evolution. Flames, embers hold a truth, they hold memories, the warmth eases concern and tension, the light a gathering point for family and friends. Fire feels central to who I am. Hard to let go of.

But I realise I must.

Most days I am touched by air pollution. In the air I breathe, the articles I read and the work that I do.

And wood stoves and indoor fires, particularly in London, are part of the problem.

But one that I have dismissed as insignificant. My focus has been the combustion engine. Diesel engines, for me, are easier to let go of. They are a relatively new invention, there are many superior lower emission alternatives. And I personally prefer to take the train, bus or walk, if I can (I am lucky that it is a choice). 

But fire is much harder.

A fire in the house was essential – but now it can’t be – and that is a hard thing to let go. 

Fire is not easy to replace. There are many ways to heat a house. but there is no alternative to the glowing intensity of the embers and the family history that you see in them.

But it is time to let go. Our planet is burning.. Time to turn to the sun, the wind and the heat from the earth. Time for new beginnings, new family stories and new lessons to be learnt.

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