Carry The Fire
When I was fifteen years old my paternal grandmother committed suicide. Over the next two decades I watched my beloved father come undone. On October 17th, 2006, my dad followed in his mother’s footsteps and took his own life. I was heart broken. I was lost. And I knew, with two generations of suicide behind me, left unchallenged, I would be next.
I decided then and there, however, that my destiny would be different. At my father’s funeral, I declared this intention to not only survive, but to thrive. My journey as a grieving son, a spiritual seeker and a rabbi has taken me across the landscape of numerous faith traditions, spiritual practices and secular therapies, techniques and wisdom masters of all kinds. And though I have found great insights and pathways within all of them, none have been more influential in my thinking and life than a passage from Cormac McCarthy’s book, The Road.
This Pulitzer Prize winning story is about a father and his young son who have survived a nuclear holocaust in which the majority of humanity has been wiped out. A handful of stragglers try desperately to stay alive, constantly foraging for food and shelter in this grim, dangerous existence. It is a horrific world they inhabit so it is understandable that the father thinks daily about taking his son’s life and then his own to escape this miserable reality. And yet, as he is about to die, due to the ravages of his physical condition, leaving his precious child alone on the road of such a cruel world, the following conversation ensues:
[The dad took his son’s hand, wheezing].
You need to go on, he said. I can’t go with you. You need to keep going. You don’t know what might be down the road. We were always lucky. You’ll be lucky again. You’ll see. Just go. It’s all right.
I can’t [said the boy].
It’s all right [said the dad]. This has been a long time coming. Now it’s here. Keep going south. Do everything the way we did it.
You’re going to be okay, Papa (said the boy). You have to.
No. I’m not (said the dad). Keep the gun with you at all times. You need to find the good guys but you can’t take any chances. No chances. Do you hear?
I want to be with you. [said the boy, meaning I want to die too].
You can’t [said the dad].
Please [said the boy].
You can’t. You have to carry the fire.
I don’t know how to. I don’t know what the fire is?
Yes you do, son.
Is it real? The fire? [asked the boy].
Yes it is [said the dad].
Where is it? I don’t know where it is [said the boy].
Yes you do. It’s inside you. It was always there. I can see it [said the dad].
… you’ll be okay. You’re going to be lucky. I know you are. I’ve got to stop talking. I’m going to start coughing again.
It’s okay, Papa. You don’t have to talk. It’s okay.
–Cormac McCarthy, “The Road” (p.278-279)
The moment I read this passage I understood my mission in a way I had been unable to articulate previously. God was calling out to me. My dad was calling out to me. My soul was calling out to me. I knew I had to discover “the fire,” and learn to carry the fire and share the fire.
That is what I set forth to do.
That is what these writings are all about
That is what I want to share with you and help you learn to do. You can learn to carry the fire of your loved one and move forward in your life with meaning, purpose and inspiration – not in spite of the loss, but as a way to honor it.
Carry Your Loved One’s Fire. That is what each of us is here to do.