Hey Harvey!

Posted on Jun 19th 2020 at 08:00:00 AM by (slackur)
Posted under Perspective, James, Fire Keeper

"Welcome to the bonfire, Unkindled One. I am a Fire Keeper. I tend to the flame, and tend to thee. The Lords have left their thrones, and must be deliver'd to them. To this end, I am at thy side."

I have a friend I'll call "James".  James is a fire keeper, though his own flame is fading.  He is a real person, and this account is factual except the name for the sake of his privacy.  James is an older gentleman who lives by himself out in the country, only a few miles from our house.  He lives a mostly solitary life, a literal hermit in the woods.  He has lived this way for many years, most recently in a home-made yurt.

A yurt, if you were curious.  Not his, but the same idea.

James and I became friends through a fascinating though unfortunate series of events.  He has some health issues so he went into town and visited the free clinic.  There, he sadly was diagnosed with a terminal illness.  Upon returning home, he had some decisions to make, naturally among them being what to do with his physical posessions.

In his youth, James collected strategy games like Warhammer and Hero Quest.  A mutual friend told him about my intention to put together an autism and gaming convention, and he decided to donate this collection to me.  This mutual friend connected us and I began to visit on occasion (after actually finding out how to get out to his property).  And thus our friendship was kindled.

While James lives off the land in a self-styled campsite of sorts surrounding his yurt, he is far from a luddite.  A lack of running water is by choice, as is the lack of a motorized vehicle.  But one modern development he still imbibes is another instant connection between us;  James is a video gamer.  Recently during one of our visits he asked if I could help with the drift in his Switch's Joy Con.  I helped him with new controllers so he could set his Switch up on a swivel, recline comfortably, and enjoy his virtual fishing.  It is one of the few distractions he can enjoy when the pain comes, so it was the least I could do.  Even Mario games feel too violent for him anymore, so I compiled a lengthy list of non-violent games on the Switch for him to check out.  (Tetris, City: Skylines, Cytus Alpha, Lunimes, Harvest Moon, Horizon Chase Turbo, The Gardens Between, Songbird Symphony, Mudrunner, Pinball, Super Monkey Ball, Truberbrook, Voez,...)
"Welcome Home, ashen one. Speak thine heart's desire."

Even at his worst, James is perfectly lucid and far more intelligent than me, not to mention extremely well traveled.  Most of our conversations take place sitting across from each other with an open fire between us.  He has stated a handful of times that he has always been a fire keeper.  He has worked as a blacksmith, a glass blower, a jeweler, a metal scrapper, a welder, and a number of other jobs using open flame.  His eyes glow when he excitedly speaks of using torches thousands of degrees hot, atop giant machines slicing apart other giant machines.  Those same eyes fill with tears as he gifts me with a home-made cross necklace, made over his fire and from nails pulled from his own home.  He tells me he was aware of the carcinogens he was inhaling during his metallurgy scrapyard days and how it certainly gave him his current condition, yet there is no resentment in his sturdy, joyous voice as he recounts the brilliant rivulets of boiling metals running under a massive plasma torch.  As I said, James is a fire keeper, though his own flame is fading.

During our conversations it becomes apparent that he doesn't really worry much about who wins the next election, or what is happening in the major cities of the US, or even the recent pandemic.  It isn't because he's unaware; he has a cell phone and a data service.  James still keeps up with events in the world even as he himself is set apart from it.  It is not that he does not care about our nation, or the world, or a worldwide illness, or injustice, or the economy, or all of the various elements of news swirling around.  But his time is short, and thus he is spending it carefully.  In fact, his time online is usually spend studying world cultures, scientific breakthroughs, and the meditations of various religions.  Our conversations have ranged all over; once we discussed the connections between astrophysics and spirituality (including how the Native Americans he knows understand the spatial expansion of the universe).  His humble dwelling includes microscopes, books on chemistry, and studies in various languages.  His quiet genius and once-capable body are at odds now, and at times he is at peace with the disparity; other times, he furtively nods in admission that he has to let go of what he was once able to do in a day.
"Ashen one, what is wrong?"

The most recent time I saw him, the effects of his condition were more visible.  He still has a quick smile and thoughtful gaze, but he is having a rougher time.  It is for the best that James isn't stressed or worried about our current world events.  In his situation he just makes the most of every day.  He doesn't lose himself in fantasy worlds to ignore the real one, but to get to the other side of a physically painful moment.  Video and strategy board games have been a blessing to him in these hospice-like days.  It still amazes me how blessed I am, and that such a peculiar connection has been a vehicle to bring us together if even for a short while. 

It is not as if the problems of the rest of the world go away, but spending time with James is like being disconnected and transported to another time, another place, another head-space.  Every time I park off the side of the dirt road and walk between the trees until I see the metal sculptures marking his property, it is as if time both stops and yet speeds through the hours.  And when I find myself walking back to my car I'm looking at the world a little differently, a little more outside looking in, than when I got there.

"...Ashen one, this is...much like what lies within me...Then let it find its own place, within my bosom. She will understand. We are both Fire Keepers, after all."

I wanted to share a little about my friend because, well, I'm already missing him (even though as of this writing, he is weak but still receiving me).  And also because in the here and now, when so much is going on and threatening to push us from our foundational rocks, perspective is one of the most precious resources available.  I'm not in a place to tell anyone what to feel, believe, or do.  This moment will pass and tomorrow will be the same, or a little different, or a lot different.  Or maybe not there at all.  That gives all the more value to the now, and to the importance to make the most of it. 

My garage now has several boxes of board and miniature games I hope to use to honor a man who wanted to make sure they were used.  A man who enjoys the distraction from pain that video games give, if even for a moment.  A man who helped give me the precious gift of perspective, in a time it is most invaluable.  My friend James is a fire keeper, though his own flame is fading.  I hope you can also use it to light yours.

"Farewell, ashen one. Mayst thou thy peace discov'r."


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You sure know how to make a guy nearly weep at his desk on a Friday afternoon. Hoping that "James" finds some peace before departing, and glad that video games are at least part of his solace as he's preparing to meet his end with bravery.
@MetalFRO:Thank you. This was tough to write, but I asked him about it (well, specifically I asked permission to write this article) and he was happy with the thought that his memory could positively effect others.
Had a feeling you'd write about the guy. It just felt ike you had to.
Thank you for sharing.
Godspeed, my friend.

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