The boxes were heavy as I trudged repeatedly from the house to the brush pile – the pyre where reams of history would soon be torched. Along with the boxes, my spirit, too, possessed a heaviness. The boxes contained hundreds of my son’s saved pages of schoolwork, many notebooks filled with homework notes and lecture notes from high school and beyond through the college years.
The “burn pile” was large; at least ten feet in diameter and more than six feet tall. It contained branches and limbs trimmed from the many trees gracing our well-kept landscape and the yard around the farmhouse. I placed the boxes carefully on top, in the center where the fire would burn the hottest. If you’ve ever burned stacks of paper or books, you know it requires a very hot fire to heat them through to the point of combustion.
“It has been many years since my son and I weren’t together at the burning of a brush pile,” I thought. It didn’t seem proper, somehow, having a big fire without him there to help control the blaze, to enjoy the sights and sounds of the flames, to share comments, to discuss random things like politics, science, sports, and God.
“The Burning” is a tradition we have observed together for years, four or more times a year, with good reasoning behind it: Two are better than one for fire control, like I said, for keeping everything pushed together in order to burn it all, and also for experiencing together the exciting roar, leaping flames, and unbelievable heat of a large bonfire. (Yes, dear reader, I know I’m repeating; I’m bad about that, and also good at it)
The companionship was always foremost, but not today, for he has moved to “the big city” to attend medical school in pharmacy.
I’m missing him today.
I need to get used to single-handed fires,
but I don’t want to,
but I must.
Heaviness of spirit drags at me even though spirit is life.
The fleshly burden of the grey generality of death tries to press upon my bones.
Concentrating on the task at hand helps me ignore it.
He is not one to save a lot of extraneous stuff, so I was surprised at the large volume of heavy paper and notebooks he had left in his closet. I, (with his permission, of course) with urging from his mom, who dislikes clutter much more than I, took up the job of disposal. But his saving all that material makes sense when I think about it. He has been an excellent student. He worked unbelievably hard to maintain a 4.0 GPA for many years; his name was never absent from the honor rolls and Dean’s Lists. He graduated Summa Cum Laude. He has the desire, the motivation, drive, and work ethic to excel in everything he does, including sports, music, and even video games!
He put a lifetime of effort into those boxes of papers. He has thousands of hours invested therein. They represent something important to him – and to me. I was reluctant to strike the match to light the accelerant I had poured in the center of the pile, but I let the muscle memory of old ritual accomplish the action. Dry leaves and twigs caught and quickly the whole pile was burning nicely. Soon, fiercely. Soon, so hot that there was little smoke. Cardboard caught and gave way spilling papers and notebooks outward and downward. The flames were all-consuming, devouring all but the memories.
I thought of all the times our son and I had sat at the dining table doing math homework. I had actually needed to relearn subjects like geometry and trigonometry in order to help him. He said it helped him learn, when he had to teach me some of the material. We helped each other and thus moved forward together, frustrated when correct answers would not come and excited when they miraculously did.
When the pile had settled and flattened like it always tends to do, the burning papers became ashes moving and stirring in the updrafts and currents of super-hot air. As I watched, a sudden, surprising, synchronized dance began. Although there was no breeze, ashes began to rise quickly skyward like reverse confetti; like a snowfall of large, fluffy flakes returning to the place from where they came. The flakes of ash confetti were uniform; about one inch to an inch and one half square, and all were grey/white.
Thousands of them rose and spread out like a cloud of
twisting, spinning, fluttering creatures,
lifting, rising, sweeping upward.
Amazed, I thought, “Wow, that is amazing! There it all goes!”
I began to have an empty feeling.
Then joy began to arrive; epiphany appeared.
“This looks like an offering,” I thought. “I could make this an offering!”
Where had that thought come from?
Then I realized that I could return it all to Him who had made it.
To honor Him who had made us, and given my son all his wonderful gifts.
To Him who had honored me with a son and honored my son in turn.
“Beauty from ashes,” my heart said.
“I lift it up, Lord, I offer it all up to You!”
I offered it up with abundant thanks,
with absolute praise,
with affectionate worship.
The emptiness left. The heaviness of spirit lifted.
“His burden is light.” It is LIFE.
His grace lifts the ashes of the burdens of our lives.
I saw material rising up in the hot updraft and I knew that His grace was rushing down and in like cool wind from heaven to replace it. Right there, in that moment, I stepped through a thin place and was lifted up in the joy of His blessings.
Out of the rising, redeemed ashes, I realized, Lord, that my son would always be with me in spirit, just like Yours!
That is good news – the best news – and I thank you for
paper and pen,
a brain and mind,
a body and spirit,
a son to love and be loved by,
and the unexpected gift of beauty from ashes.