The other morning I had a dream in which I was with a friend who was proudly showing me what he had accomplished in the last year, and it was quite a lot. He had built a brand new house on a hill, three-stories tall, with two cars in the garage and a light-filled house complete with beautiful art and wonderful architecture. I’m not prone to jealousy, but it did occur to me that I, too, had had a productive year and had something to share.
So in the dream I invited him to the house I’ve been renting in Umbria, a wonderful 4-bedroom house on a hill with a lovely panorama of the Umbrian hills. I’ve had quite a difficult year – as anyone who knows me will attest – so I had no idea what I was going about to show him. It surprised me when I didn’t lead him into the house, as I would have imagined, but around the back, to a corner next to the fence where I’ve been throwing out ashes all winter from the two wood stoves I heat the house with. (I’ve come to think of these stoves, burning throughout the winter, as a kind of constantly burning heart in the center of my life, purifying me.)
Proudly, I reached into one of the dozens of ash-piles and pulled out a chunk of burned carbon for us to see, larger than most, with jet-black facets and a real shine to it. It was a wonder to behold. “I remember this one,” I said, as tears came to my eyes. “Oh, and look,” I said, picking up another beauty, “there’s this one here.”