Back in the days of wood heating, the fireplace was a central and essential part of the house. Stoked and prodded, fire was a bright orange source of heat, and a strong reminder of our shared interests in warmth and community. Atop the fireplace, on the mantle, was always something of personal meaning to the family, be it a family portrait or a treasured heirloom. Chairs were positioned around the fireplace, and it was a focal point that drew us together frequently, to talk and share time.
Nowadays, most homes are heated thoroughly and invisibly by a furnace or baseboard heaters. No-one has to stoke or carry wood, and we can each be comfortable in our own rooms. More often it seems, we are on our own, with our iPods and screens. Without direct fire we are safer now, and the warmth is easy and assumed. Its cost comes in the bill at the end of the month, and the more subtle loss of shared time and discussion.
On a recent visit to my parent's home my Mom had changed the fireplace mantle display. An elegant vase from my childhood held long stems of spring buds and bull rushes. Entwined through it all were soft, pink flowers. On its right was a beautiful woman, dressed in soft grey with a matching pink umbrella, enjoying the nearby flowers.
The starkness of the dark brown bullrushes stood out against the muted shadows on the wall, and it struck me how easily we can separate ourselves from nature and community. In their native environment, bull rushes grow in swamps, and wet feet are guaranteed for their collection — or would be if it were us collecting them. More often these days the colors of nature are filtered through our screens, and not so much entwined, but engulfed, in the determined marketing of everything. There's a lot of pulsing, dynamic color to be seen on our screens, and no shortage of actors' interpretation of life.
But here in my parents' home, bull rushes and porcelin ladies stand together, as we sit and talk and share.
People are wonderfully adaptive and strong — surviving almost anything and flourishing whenever possible. I love art and the freedom and creativity that our culture encourages. I know that people gather, as they always have, to share time and stories — to meet and to fall in love.
But let's not lose our sense of subtlety — our joy in calmness — our appreciation of being together, full of subtle warmth and color.
Looking closer at the mantle's display, I saw the small pink flower on the vase. Nice touch — very subtle.