A friend sent me a gift this morning: an excerpt from the book Jacob the Baker by Noah BenShea. I had not heard of this book, nor of its author; the above title links to his web page.
The story, "In the Ashes", concerns Jacob and his friend Mr. Gold, who is dying. They discuss their views on life and its value; at one point Mr. Gold exclaims "Our days amount to nothing!" But Jacob differs, and he responds as one 'with the attitude of a man not filled with knowing but caring':
"Mr. Gold, all passes, nothing stops. Our days do amount to nothing, but that is because we are not a collection. We are a process.
"The truth about the seasons is that the seasons change. While everything appears to live and die, it is only the appearance of things which lives and dies. The dead are buried. Their memory is not."
"...Life is often heavy only because we attempt to carry it," said Jacob. "But, I do find strength in the ashes."
"In the ashes?" asked Mr. Gold.
"Yes," said Jacob, with a confirmation that seemed to have traveled a great distance.
"You see, Mr. Gold, each of us is alone. Each of us is in the great darkness of our ignorance. And, each of us is on a journey. In the process of our journey, we must bend to build a fire for light, and warmth and food.
"But when our fingers tear at the ground, hoping to find the coals of another's fire, what we often find are the ashes. And, in these ashes, which will not give us light or warmth, there may be sadness, but there is also testimony.
"Because these ashes tell us that somebody else has been in the night, somebody else has bent to build a fire, and somebody else carried on.
"And that can be enough, sometimes."
Human life is the show that never ends. We are the product of our past, our heritage; the ashes provide a foundation for the present, whether we are aware of it or not. Those ashes can represent our greatest hopes.
Tomorrow we celebrate the birth of one who brings meaning to our lives. Tonight, my wife and I will visit a couple who face incredible physical barriers. The woman suffers from a sickness that requires dialysis twice a week; her husband, who has been caring for her for years, is now going blind. Yet, they are the most optimistic and hopeful people we know. They do not dwell on their own problems, but are much more interested in caring for others -- and are thankful for every blessing that comes their way.
The light from this couple shines from a deep foundation of ashes. It represents the strongest hope for all of us.