Life in Terms of Coal

Yesterday marks the epic twelve-hour journey from Portland to Minden, in which Sierra and I nearly lost our marbles completely. In order to maintain sanity, we tried a variety of methods which include but are not limited to: teaching Sierra to drive a stick shift with a sheriff directly behind us just for a thrill, nearly dying twice, because of this event (Sierra of course denies everything), letting Sierra psychoanalyze my life three separate times, etc.

The very last attempt consisted of Sierra reading her latest book out loud, All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr (even though I begged profusely to hear Harry Potter instead).

Nevertheless, I enjoyed a particular section of this book on coal (most of the book is about coal):

“Consider a single piece glowing in your family’s stove. That chunk of coal was once a green plant, a fern or a reed that lived one million years ago, or maybe two million, or maybe one hundred million. Every summer for the whole life of that plant, its leaves caught what light they could and transformed the sun’s energy into itself. Into barks, twigs, stems. But then the plant died and fell, probably into water, and decayed into peat folded inside the earth for years upon years – eons in which something like a month or a decade or even your whole life was just a puff of air, a snap of two fingers. And eventually the peat dried and became like a stone, and someone dug it up, and the coal man brought it to your house, and maybe you yourself carried it to the stove, and now that sunlight – sunlight one hundred million years old – is heating your home tonight.” 

And it struck me as fascinating, the possible futures that plants and coal can have in life.

The first is as Anthony Doerr writes, in which a plant absorbs warmth and sunlight, follows nature’s natural course, and becomes coal, which eventually warms the families of future generations.

The second, is as most Americans would prefer, in which a plant absorbs warmth and sunlight, follows nature’s natural course, becomes coal, and then is compressed indefinitely to produce a diamond, which eventually graces the neckline of future generations.

Lost somewhere in my own thought process, I find that the first represents a free and natural life ending in the passing of warmth and comfort onto your family, while the second represents a life under extreme duress, ending in a cold, hard piece of status for families to fight over.

It seems that in the rat race that is today’s society, we become immersed in a perpetual attempt to increase our financial and hierarchal status, in efforts to provide money for our families, and an impressive name to hide our problems behind, when in fact, what our families really need is warmth and togetherness.

So perhaps next time we admire the glitz and glam of the greener grass next door, we might remember that diamonds are meant to be cold and hard, but families are not.


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