There is a satisfying magic in gathering around a campfire. I suppose it’s been that way since the early days. People getting close, staying warm, telling stories. Community, for lack of a better term. Commuting to a communion.
An informal council of the ways and means we navigate through life. Reflecting on the many roads that led us to this very moment, and to this particular place. A respite from the busy lives we lead. It is certainly very nice to get away, from IT, whatever IT may be.
Being faced down with another version of ourselves. The “what if” version, the one that observes a deeper tie to the nature that is kept at bay by leading a life in the modernity of civilization.
Of course, this is a very watered down “what if” version. There are no real stakes, anyways. We all still have cell phones, there is a central office location, and we are not prey to a variety of animals.
So in modern day camping, we are afforded a certain level of security to be able to contemplate the very mortality which we would normally be unable to contemplate when being challenged by a harsh natural environment.
Nonetheless, a fire has a way of romanticizing that mortality, and lifelong friends treat the canopy of a forest campsite, as if it were the canopy of a cathedral, and often espouse the haunting sins of our souls that are profoundly more appropriate for a confessional box. Secrets of mind and heart, and more specifically, about the types of things that don’t get talked about on the regular.
Approaching, if not being smack in the middle of middle age, also conspires with campfire to bring about the conditions necessary to reflect deeply on all the life that has passed by, what’s left, and what will happen after we are gone.
Real moments of coming up against a truth that is obscured in the early part of your life, if you are lucky; simply, that life does not go on forever.
It is tough to wrap your head around this, and even harder to articulate among even lifelong friends, but, when in Rome…
During this gathering, the most significant contribution to acknowledging this inconvenient truth about life, arrived in the “What song do you want played at your service/wake/funeral?”
Apparently, a lot of thought has gone into this. It is a marvelous pre-need arrangement that many of us have considered, I’m sure. A sort of fantasy about death. What can I control, once I pass into not caring about what I control?
How can we be remembered, or summed up in a song?
This is an important last act, or a way to articulate to those left behind what you want them to think of you. An opportunity for them to contemplate their own mortality, and a chance to coddle the sorrow that your permanent absence provides.
I will not set specificity to the selections made by my cohorts, but rest assured, there is a good range of emotion that comes of sharing this information. There is validation, assent, quizzical looks, and downright empathy.
The careful listening and reflection of chosen songs truly humbles. It is a hard acknowledgement that it does end.
But, not just yet. Beers sipped, logs added to the blaze, mortality snatched from the brink. And, as timing usually goes when victory is advanced, park security comes along and reminds us that the campfire curfew is in effect and we need to extinguish the fire.
The sounds that an extinguishing campfire makes are quite dramatic. Leaving one with a sense that the cold will now approach, and make it harder to sleep.