Are you Carrying the Fire?
“We’re going to be okay, aren’t we Papa?”
“Yes. We are.”
“And nothing bad is going to happen to us?“
“That’s right. Because we’re carrying the fire. Yes. Because we’re carrying the fire.”
I just finished reading the book, The Road by Cormac McCarthy (what an author!). One of the best books (and films) I have seen in a very long time. In times of extreme anxiety (like right now!) it put things in perspective for me.
For my family and my work.
Let me explain… For those of you who have children, this book will make you hold them a little tighter.
The story involves an unnamed father and his son pilgrimage across a dreary, ashen, post-apocalyptic America, pushing a shopping cart of their supplies and perpetually scavenging for their next meal.
All the while they’re on the lookout for the “bad guys”– savage tribes of baby-eating men who maraud across the landscape in their jerry-rigged, diesel-run vehicles.
The Road has been called a love story between father and son, and nothing could better describe it.
The book powerfully puts the beauty and sorrow of fatherhood in stark perspective, revealing paternal love intensely close to the bone.
The father is sick and dying.
He knows he won’t be around much longer to protect and provide for his young boy. A sense of being “thrown into the world,” pervades the lives of these two individuals, who only have each other to rely on.
Throughout the story the man experiences moments of soul-deep anguish as he thinks about his son’s future in this bleak and desolate environment. He even contemplates smashing his son’s head with a rock to spare him from being raped and eaten by some filthy and depraved barbarian.
Yet at the same time, the man finds hope and goodness in his boy’s innocent sweetness, and thus the strength to continue on.
Along their journey, he tells his son stories of the world before its destruction.
He teaches him the physical skills and mental aptitudes needed to survive.
But most importantly, the man teaches his son to “Carry the fire”:
“We wouldn’t ever eat anybody, would we?
“No. Of course not.”
“No matter what?”
“No. No matter what. Because we’re the good guys. Yes. And we’re carrying the fire.”
For the man and his son, “the fire” is a metaphor not only for the will to live, but to live nobly.
It’s an embrace of human goodness. It’s having hope when all seems hopeless.
The good guys carry the fire; the bad guys don’t.
In their current situation, moral lapses might be excused and rationalized as the difference between life and death.
“I want to be with you.”
“You can’t. You have to carry the fire.”
“I don’t know how to.”
“Yes, you do.”
“Is it real? The fire?”
“Yes, it is.”
“Where is it? I don’t know where it is.”
“Yes, you do. It’s inside you. It was always there. I can see it.”
“Just take me with you. Please.”
The father thinks to himself: I can’t hold my son dead in my arms. I thought I could but I can’t.
“You said you wouldn’t ever leave me.”
“I know. I’m sorry. You have my whole heart. You always did. You’re the best guy. You always were. If I’m not here you can still talk to me. You can talk to me and I’ll talk to you. You’ll see.”
I’m not going to spoil the story for you. My point is that with all the divisiveness and polarization going on now in the news and workplace, are you “carrying the fire” at home and at work?
Or have you let the current malaise snuff it out and grow cold?
More importantly, what are you doing in your daily life to pass this fire on to someone else…a direct report or peer?
In the office place, find others who are carrying the fire so you can combine your flames together into a roaring blaze.
Every time I read The Road it convicts me to do better.
To be more humane, more civil.
I’m more intentional about teaching those things to my kids and my employees. I try to be more hopeful, and less cynical.
So don’t despair…Carry the Fire!
I always appreciate your thoughts and ideas.