• on June 6, 2019

A LAST TRIBUTE TO FRED AND MARNY SMITH

The other shoe has finally fallen. Yesterday Fred and Marny moved to Easthampton, MA. I could only say so much about their illustrious lives before we sang our farewell hymn.  May I share a couple other bits redolent of their years with us as matriarch and patriarch?

One obvious gift was who they were as a couple, their shared married life. Couples looked to their struggles and joys to find our way forward. We noticed how they hung together no matter what. We saw how they fed and nurtured their unity as husband and wife.   Sally Bassler found this impressive piece about how that happens. It is adapted from a letter by Peter Riggs when he was solo camping in tropical Indonesia. It seems the artful building of a campfire also evokes what is required to stoke marital vigor and vitality.

“Two fatal flaws when building fires in a perpetually wet environment: one, understanding the value of kindling.  And two, thinking that there is some point, some critical mass of heat and light, after which the fire could not possibly go out.  No such point exists—even the largest bonfire can be snuffed out due to inattention.

“The small stuff is essential.  After the first day I had built up a good supply of logs, but every morning saw me out after twigs.  A handful of good, dry bark-stripped twigs are far more essential to the future of the fire than any number of logs.  The twigs I would bring into the tent with me.  They were that important.

“But keeping a fire lit here is like singing the refrain of a spiritual.  There can be 80 verses, but you always come back to the same chorus: blow on the fire.  Anything you do, at any time, the most immediate need is brought home to you: blow on the fire, keep it going.

“Find the flashlight and the noodle packs, blow on the fire. Spread the tarp, locate the cup, blow on the fire.  Walk down to the waterside, clean the cup, walk back, blow on the fire.  Sit a minute, smile, look for constellations in the open sky, blow on the fire.  Get out the knife, open the package, blow on the fire. Separate out the flavor packs, wipe your eyes, blow on the fire.

“I have always had a difficult relationship with fire.  At the same time, I have had difficulty keeping relationships strong.  Similar problems, I now realize: underestimating the small stuff and assuming there’s some point after which the blaze just burns on and on forever.”

Finally, last Sunday I learned Marny carries this Rainer Maria Wilke poem in her wallet. I’ll let you parse it out for yourselves after its loftier meanings. It has the flavor of benediction.

 

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,

then walks with us silently out of the night.

 

These are the words we dimly hear:

 

You, sent out beyond your recall,

go to the limits of your longing.

Embody me.

 

Flare up like flame

And make big shadows I can move

in.

 

Let everything happen to you:

beauty and terror.

Just keep going.  No feeling is final.

Don’t let yourself lose me.

 

Nearby is the country they call life.

You will know it by its seriousness.

 

Give me your hand.

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