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The Campfire

Last night, at Ciao Stella, a cozy Italian place on Sullivan Street, I had the pleasure of speaking to a group of people about life after death.   I tried to speak about the many lives and many deaths we endure in this one body, rather limiting myself to “the big one.”  A little more than a week ago, a friend of mine died suddenly of a heart attack.  Since the funeral, I’ve been awash in memories and impressions of simple exchanges I had with this man, simple moments of being humans together and having a laugh at the comedy and mystery of it all.   This man had literally hundreds of other friends who had been touched in similar ways.   It made me realize the truth of something that great being Mr. Rogers once said (and I paraphrase):  In the face of loss or great trauma, it isn’t the big achievements and things–big houses, big prizes–but the softest, least coveted qualities we have given and received–moments of good humor, friendship, love–that prove to be the strongest and most enduring things in the world.   As the Taoists say, the softest things overcomes the hardest.

“I would have died if I hadn’t died,” said Soren Kierkegaard at some point or another.   This is a quote I have been comforted by, educated by, more than some whole books, whole college courses even.  If my heart had not been broken, if my dreams had not been dashed, if I hadn’t died, I wouldn’t have been opened to receive the real magic possibility in life.  I would be able to be transformed by it.   At my friend Jon Rothenberg’s funeral, people spoke about how he had changed in recent years, after the shattering death of his daughter.  One person described him as being like a great warm campfire that people were drawn to sit around.   At his best, he emanated acceptance and a keen interest in the mystery of life that people.   In his last years, Jon gave many people the incomparable gift of  considering their own unsuspected depths and possibilities.

Fresh from experiencing this, and still marveling at the way this fallout of love and acceptance can live on, I tried to begin a conversation about what we might actually acquire when we suffer loss.  What can come is a quality of willingness to be here in the real world, a wish to be open to it and changed by it.  Phil Robinson, who organized the myth group and invited me to speak, commented that the conversation that evolved had a warming, intimate quality, like sitting around a campfire.   May it be so.  It was good to be there.

3 replies on “The Campfire”

Tracy, I am moved by your writing and sharing. I’ve just been exploring websites and blogs and I find so many that are full of advice about how to be happier, more relaxed, simpler, less cluttered, more spiritual. All of this is fine, but for now I’d rather hang out in the mystery, discover all that is learned from living here today amidst the death of this moment, the vast silence, what we discover when we let go over and over again. I love your questions about, “what we might actually acquire when we suffer loss.”

Thank you, Jasmine. I love your comments….”Our longing is our pledge” — I keep thinking of that. Tracy

Far too often we don’t take time to have a simple conversation with our neighbors and fellow travelers. I often wonder if there really are chance encounters and chance events. More and more we are being told that we are creating our own reality, that the quantum mind is real and that human consciousness cannot be explained.

What is unfolding before us it seems, is nothing less than the mystery of all creation. A mystery that takes us far beyond our own imaginations and into the very heart of the divine. We are working with such divine energy every day of our lives. We can literally create our own futures.

But, without the experience of sorrow and loss, without fully understanding that the desires we cling to can often lead to such sorrow and the feeling of separation this brings, how will we ever learn that lesson? How will we ever learn that the power of love and compassion transforms sorrow into joy?

In her great work “Revelations of Divine Love,” the English mystic Julian of Norwich (1342-1413), wrote that sin (let us name this sorrow and separation a did Paul Tillich) is “behovable, playeth a needful part.” And then she adds in chapter 27, “But Jesus, who in this Vision informed me of all that is needful to me, answered by this word and said: It behoved that there should be sin; (Synne is behovabil) but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

Centuries later the poet, T.S. Eliot, uses this phase quite effectively throughout his work “The Four Quartets.” In the final chapters of “Little Gidding,” he writes.

There are three conditions which often look alike
Yet differ completely, flourish in the same hedgerow:
Attachment to self and to things and to persons, detachment
From self and from things and from persons; and, growing between them, indifference
Which resembles the others as death resembles life,
Being between two lives – unflowering, between
The live and the dead nettle. This is the use of memory:
For liberation – not less of love but expanding
Of love beyond desire, and so liberation
From the future as well as the past. Thus, love of a country
Begins as an attachment to our own field of action
And comes to find that action of little importance
Though never indifferent. History may be servitude,
History may be freedom. See, now they vanish,
The faces and places, with the self which, as it could, loved them,
To become renewed, transfigured, in another pattern.
Sin is Behovely, but
All shall be well, and
All manner of thing shall be well.
If I think, again, of this place,
And of people, not wholly commendable,
Of not immediate kin or kindness,
But of some peculiar genius,
All touched by a common genius,
United in the strife which divided them;
If I think of a king at nightfall,
Of three men, and more, on the scaffold
And a few who died forgotten
In other places, here and abroad,
And of one who died blind and quiet,
Why should we celebrate
These dead men more than the dying?
It is not to ring the bell backward
Nor is it an incantation
To summon the spectre of a Rose.
We cannot revive old factions
We cannot restore old policies
Or follow an antique drum.
These men, and those who opposed them
And those whom they opposed
Accept the constitution of silence
And are folded in a single party.
Whatever we inherit from the fortunate
We have taken from the defeated
What they had to leave us – a symbol:
A symbol perfected in death.
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
By the purification of the motive
In the ground of our beseeching.


The dove descending breaks the air
With flame of incandescent terror
Of which the tongues declare
The one dischage from sin and error.
The only hope, or else despair
Lies in the choice of pyre of pyre-
To be redeemed from fire by fire.

Who then devised the torment? Love.
Love is the unfamiliar Name
Behind the hands that wove
The intolerable shirt of flame
Which human power cannot remove.
We only live, only suspire
Consumed by either fire or fire.


What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make and end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from. And every phrase
And sentence that is right (where every word is at home,
Taking its place to support the others,
The word neither diffident nor ostentatious,
An easy commerce of the old and the new,
The common word exact without vulgarity,
The formal word precise but not pedantic,
The complete consort dancing together)
Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,
Every poem an epitaph. And any action
Is a step to the block, to the fire, down the sea’s throat
Or to an illegible stone: and that is where we start.
We die with the dying:
See, they depart, and we go with them.
We are born with the dead:
See, they return, and bring us with them.
The moment of the rose and the moment of the yew-tree
Are of equal duration. A people without history
Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern
Of timeless moments. So, while the light fails
On a winter’s afternoon, in a secluded chapel
History is now and England.

With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this Calling

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always—
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flames are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.


What is old is made new again and again, from out our deepest sorrows, come our deepest joys, grounded in the mystery of love.

“If God, as many believe is love. Then I believe
it must be that our love added to others, is helping
to fashion his one song of creation.

And that if we ever stopped loving, really
stopped loving one another, then the world would
truly end suddenly and sadly with no warning at all.

This is why Christ gave us his two greatest
commandments, and Buddha taught compassion,
because they knew and wanted us to know too.

As long as one single person remembers how
to love and forgive anew each morning, like a child,
then the world is saved again and again.”

Ron Starbuck

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