Even in these harried and hurried days, a child still unfolds slowly.
And so it can take years for a child to know how to become a respectful friend and confidant of fire.
There’s the crux of knowing good wood when you find it. The sharp sound of it snapping. The smell of it. The feel of it on your lips. The way it yields to a thumb nail. The location where it lies. It’s age.
There’s the architecture of it. A jumble, a tepee, a pagoda. The size and order of the sticks. The correct placement of a tinder bundle. And the content of the little nest to nurse the first flame or ember.
There’s the lighting of it. It can take months just to learn how to light a match and keep it alive in fickle breezes or an October downpour. Then there’s the struggle to learn to place the flame for it to ignite the tinder.
All of this learning takes time. There are no shortcuts. Yelling doesn’t help. Impatience blows out any enthusiasm for the task. Relieving the child of her frustration by doing it yourself robs her for years to come.
Fire-making is a part of the core curriculum at the School of Human Beings where a child develops her relationship to heat and light and maturation and trees and ancestry and weather and beauty and belonging. It fosters depth and girth, and for it to find it’s place in the child’s heart, it requires mentoring, gentle guidance and persistence on the part of the parent.
So alignining with the slow time of the forest is appropriate here, and the humility to ask the fire what it needs and submitting to its demands. This is tutelage. You wear a tuft of moss on your arm as a time piece. You sing the flames into being. You recognize the work it takes to court life into offering you such a blissful moment of comfort and warmth.
A child unfolds slowly, even though we’re in a hurry.
The late Irish poet and priest John O’Donohue put it this way: “I think this is one of the key things in parenting and the difficulty of raising children in a very, very fast-moving culture — that again, it’s the difficulty of creating a space where children can actually unfold and where they can be truly accompanied in their journey, because I think young kids now in adolescence are going through huge, huge question zones that when we were young, we didn’t go through. And sometimes it’s very lonesome to watch how distant parents feel from them because of their incapacity to somehow hold conversations with them that really need to happen.”
The family home needs these slow spaces, days where time stands still, the scent of bread in the air, days when boredom sits by your child’s side, watching the rain patter on the window sill as the swoop of a magpie stirs the waters of her soul in unimaginable ways.
We can fly far from our child if we don’t tend to them like a much needed fire.