Burning away your cares in the warmth of a fireplace

Last week, when we had our first real cold snap, I was very busy and behind in my work.

I threw on a sweater that day, but besides that, barely noticed the change in weather. I didn't have the time. I did a great deal of busywork that didn't really amount to anything but totally wore me out.

The family walked in at 6:45 p.m. after one son's football game and I was feeling smug that I had the foresight to prepare dinner ahead of time.

The only problem was, I hadn't figured in the time it takes to preheat the oven and the long minutes it takes a casserole to cook when everyone is hungry and rummaging for anything edible.

All I could see was a blur of fingers and then crumbled wrappers, banana peels, and flakes of cereal flying through the air as they inhaled any food in sight.

Somewhat satiated, my middle son asked if we could have a fire in the fireplace.

"Have you done your homework?" I snapped, knowing full well he hadn't. "And you haven't bathed, fed the dog, set the table, taken out the trash, or memorized that Robert Frost poem. No, we don't have time for a fire!"

I posted myself by the oven door, opening it every few minutes, which let the heat out (something I would berate my boys for doing), and peered closely at the casserole, which appeared to be getting colder by the minute.

I closed my eyes and vowed never to attempt dinner again after 5 p.m.

Suddenly I got a whiff of a foreign smell, nothing like the Chicken Divan in the oven, or the plastic cutting board, part of which had melted on the stove last week.

It smelled like ... wood smoke. I waited, then heard the crackling of kindling, and pulled myself away from the kitchen and saw the blaze in the fireplace.

My husband called me downstairs so I left my post by the oven and collapsed on the couch. I felt my body relax in the warmth of the fire and my to-do list disappear with the twigs in the fireplace.

I suddenly forgot about setting the table and nagging about homework.

We ate in front of the fire, our plates balanced on our laps. No one moved after we were through. No one leapt up when the phone rang or rushed up from the table to finish nighttime chores.

We sat by the fire a good while, and then my middle son recited his poem for homework, Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening."

I closed my eyes as he described the dark branches of the trees and the hushed sweep of the snow filling the woods. Was it unusual for the author of this poem to stop what he was doing, to take a break from his busy schedule, and enjoy the sheer beauty of this earth? I thought of myself cutting life's pleasures short because "I have miles to go before I sleep."

I opened my eyes and looked at the faces of these people I love, at the curved cheeks of my youngest, the dark eyes of my oldest, and the blonde cowlick of my middle son's hair. The firelight flickered on their faces and I glanced at my husband and knew he was thinking the same thing:

That we weren't going to rush this moment, no matter how many miles we had to go before we slept.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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