Gold and Ashes

Join me at this bonfire, won’t you? I’ll set the scene and you can stay here with me for a little while.

Here, have this hot chocolate. It’s thin and sweet, made with water because I wanted to make it fast, not necessarily good, but it’ll settle hot in your stomach and the warmth will spread along your arms, through your fingers, inside your chest.

The air is cool and sharp, the sky spotted with white clouds thick enough to block out the stars but not so white they can’t be mistaken for night gathered up like wool and clustered untidily across the expanse. It hovers on your skin, startles your eyes open, open even though you’re drowsy and content. It pulls you closer to the flames, hunting for the heat though the chill makes you feel alive.

The air is laced with the scent of pine, spicy and laced with memories. Once you were much younger – younger in body, in thoughts, in interests. You wore knit gloves and a thick black hat, and inside your down vest your heart beat a little faster because it was church camp and your whole youth group was there and you were free from your parents and standing close – so close, just two people away – from the boy you thought you might be in love with and if you just smiled the right way and laughed loudly enough, maybe he’d see you this time.

Steam swirls up, silver and fleeting, from the mug in your hand. It’s too hot, really, but everything else around you is too cold so you keep holding on anyways. After you sip, you breathe out, and your breath is silver and fleeting too, like this moment, which is so still you can hear the rush of the traffic on the highway several blocks away, and which seems impossible, so that in the next breath or sound you might shatter it.

So maybe today was not perfect. Maybe the delivery people had the wrong address and your washer/dryer is still lost on a truck somewhere, and maybe you didn’t perform every single task at work with the level of excellence you wish you would have. Maybe the past year has been hard, maybe you remember it as a series of mornings growing more and more difficult to face and more times angry and afraid than not. But this moment is good. Right now, somewhere, sometime, you’re at the church camp, and he does finally notice you. Somewhere out there are a dozen of the moments you regret or have never accepted, and this time they all go right and every good thing is yours. And when you look now into the fire and you see the flames rising, white and blue and darting, things make more sense.

Because what it all boils down to is gold and ashes, flashing fire over liquid coals and gray charred wood, moments that shine in perfection and others that disintegrate in our hands. And it’s okay, it’s all okay, because out of the ashes rises the gold and with that gold we can pave streets and build cities. In the chilly night air, with your breath like steam and the mug still hot but cooling fast clutched in your hands, you’re going to be okay, and sometimes okay – silent and dark – is more than enough. All we are is gold and ashes.

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