The Second Year – Coal

“Let it breathe, Trish, let the coal breathe.”

When Mike had a severe case of Lyme disease a few years ago, I became responsible for the coal stove. Each morning I had to shake out the ash and load the stove up with coal. I learned quickly that there is an art to keeping a coal fire going. One time I shook the hot coals too hard and bent the cast iron shaker grates. But Mike had the knack. He was the “Coal King”. And he was determined to teach me how to improve my coal burning skills. Little did I know that I was being prepared for this season of life.

The memory of Mike’s words encouraged me yesterday as I took on this year’s challenge of cleaning and starting the stove. On my very own this time. We have a ton (literally) of coal in the backyard and I don’t want to waste it. So I invited Red to come to the basement with me to give this my best shot.  This was not going to be a quick job. so while I worked, Red got comfortable.

First, I had to prepare the stove for the coal. I didn’t use it last year so I had a lot of cleaning to do. Three ash buckets later, Bertha (who names their stove??) was ready.

That was the easy part. Starting the fire and building the base takes time. A lot of time. And so I began. Fire Starters. Then, kindling. Then logs. More logs. Then a little bit of coal. Another log to keep the fire hot. A bit more coal. Check the air flow. If you put too much coal in at once, it will suffocate the flame and you have to start all over, with a cleaned out stove.

Less wood, more coal. A little more coal. And then a little bit more.

“Not too much at one time, Trish. Let it breathe.”

Go slowly. It needs to breathe.

I made some phone calls. I wrote in my journal. Red lay beside me, dozing. Breathing deeply. Restful.

As I fed the fire slowly, it gradually burned brighter. And warmer. I saw the blue flame spread. Finally, after midnight I thought it might be OK to go to bed. It was risky. I wasn’t sure if the coals were hot enough to burn through the now shortened night. I wondered if I needed to wake up during the night to check on the fire. And then I realized that I needed to let it go and allow the coal to burn; to do it’s job. Coal does not like to be fussed with. Any variation in air flow, no matter how slight, impacts how the coal burns. Too much air, it burns too fast. Too little air, and it suffocates. Either way, the result is the same – it burns out. So I checked it one more time and felt satisfied that the bed of coals was deep enough for the night. It was burning steadily.

Just before I dozed off, I thought about that fire and the fine balance that it needs in order to burn efficiently. Too much of one thing…not enough of another…and the flames either burn out too quickly or they are smothered. And so it is with JOY. It needs to be cultivated; with great intention.  Do I cultivate joy in my life? Even in the hard times? I think back to the late nights of Mike’s last weeks at home; when all was quiet. Mike was sleeping in his recliner. I was tucked into the blankets on the couch next to him. It was so dark. I listened to the rhythm of Mike’s breathing. I saw the moon and the stars through the door. Life was surreal. I thought about all Mike was going through. And all I was going through. I took the time, in the night, to process the previous day. And I looked at the stars.  Every night on that couch this song came to my mind. A song that reminded me to seek joy.

“You’re rich in love and  you’re slow to anger, Your name is great and your heart is kind. For all your goodness I will keep on singing, 10,000 reasons for my heart to find.”

And each morning I set about cultivating those seeds of Joy that God placed in my heart the night before. This does not mean I was happy. It was different. Much different. It was the joy of a heart at rest; knowing that even in the midst of intense difficulties, I knew I was not alone and I knew that ultimately, I was going to be OK. And that has not changed.

So like the stove, I remember to take it slow, that I can’t rush the process, and that healing takes time.

“Let it breathe, Trish, let your soul breathe.”

“Then Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.'” Mt 11:28


7 thoughts on “The Second Year – Coal

  1. George says:

    Great Job. Thank you.

  2. Aunt peg says:

    Just BE and BREATHE…..HE continues to guide you through, Patty and might I add, a GREAT bed of coals there, girl… done good!!!

  3. Kim Stirtan says:

    Who would ever think that you could find Joy in the story about coal but you did and it brought tears to my eyes 🙂 Mike’s words are still affecting us all 🙂
    Love you,

  4. Laurie says:

    Such insight… beautiful!

  5. jmspruance says:

    you did it!!!Way to go!

  6. Ring, Christine says:

    Trish, sorry I am responding so late. I told Peg this morning I would respond today. Loved the fireplace coal story. Don’t know much about coal except; I grew up in the Bronx and we had a coal furnace. The superintendent had to shovel coal to get heat up to the four storied apartment building. I remember the coal trucks that pulled up and emptied the coal into the huge room near the furnace. We would pick up the scraps and write on the sidewalk, making hop-scotch boxes or skully boxes for our games. All this before Mr. Weinberg one of the owners of the building, came and took the scraps of coal away from us. I remember the Super, Mr. Bradley showed us kids the furnace! OMG it was huge and the fire was incredible. He had to get up at 4 AM to feed the coal to the furnace so we would have heat and hot water. The furnace room was one place we never looked to play in. It was too scarey.
    Like most things in life we have to breathe! Love the way you hear Mike’s words and let them resonate in your heart. Creating a good fire is an art to say the least and no one likes to clean out the ashes. Fire is a sign of strength and warmth for me. My brother and his wife have a remote for their fireplace. I love to sit with their dogs in front of the fireplace (they have two chwa was spelling really bad, small dogs) Beannie and Bebe. They are cuddlers. For me fire is twofold in my life, comfort and inspiration. The whole tongues of fire from Pentecost is important b/c there were women in that room, one of them the ultimate woman, Mary the mother of Jesus and she too received one of those tongues of fire. So women do have a special place in the Church.
    Any how you keep the fire burning to warm your soul and continue to feel the warmth of Mike’s words and presence.

    Chris Ring, Peg’s friend from Lauralton

  7. Susan Bever says:

    much is going on in your soul and heart Patty…thinking of you and praying for you during these holidays; with love, Susan

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