Sparks of Comfort
My husband, Dennis, and I have birthdays less than a week apart. When they roll around each November, the leaves in Middle Tennessee are ablaze with color and the nights are crisp—perfect camping conditions. Which is why an overnight with a few close friends at Henry Horton State Park, 50 miles south of Nashville, was how we planned to celebrate in 2014.
As the weekend drew near, though, we hit two snags. First, unseasonably cold temperatures crept into the forecast. I thought, It’s nothing an extra blanket and a pair of long johns can’t solve. Second, we learned we were pregnant.
To say we were thrown for a loop is putting it mildly. In our 13 years of marriage, Dennis and I had talked about children from time to time, but producing (and providing for) a functional human seemed daunting for two anxiety Olympians like us, and we’d quietly settled into “DINK” life—dual income, no kids.
We considered canceling the trip altogether, but ultimately forged ahead in a kind of daze. Whether we did it to avoid flaking out on our friends or to try and distract ourselves, it’s hard to say. No matter the reason, I trudged into the woods dreading the night ahead of me. It was frigid, and I felt ill and in over my head.
There were hugs and high-fives as everyone arrived, but no announcement. Dennis and I had agreed it was better to keep our news under wraps so early on. Just act normal, I thought as I fumbled through setting up camp. It was a refrain that had been running through my mind for days.
Once we had the fire going, we snugged down around it against the growing cold, telling stories, laughing, eating s’mores, passing a flask I pretended to nip from, and laughing some more. Hours went by without any of us noticing.
I once read somewhere that engaging the senses is a good way to de-stress, to “live in the moment,” as gurus would say. Though I wasn’t thinking about that then, the campfire seemed to be delivering its own form of meditation. Its warmth settled on my cheeks and pooled in the folds of the blanket wrapped around me. Its cedar-and-damp-earth smell hung above us, like breathable nostalgia. It filled conversational lulls with pops and crackles, quick spans where I’d lose myself completely in watching it lap the night air.
In its glow, Dennis’ face flickered in the sepia tones of a classic movie. Now and then, our eyes would lock, and we’d silently acknowledge the whopper of a secret we shared. In the unspoken language of people who know each other inside and out, he’d raise an eyebrow to ask if I was OK. I’d smile to tell him I was, and he’d grin back. Same old Dennis … only not the same. Literally and figuratively, I was seeing him in a new light. (I couldn’t have known it then, but he’d wear that same goofy grin the following July when he held our son for the first time.)
I had expected the fire would keep us warm and toast our marshmallows. But I’d no idea it would kindle a peace in me and melt away the tension I’d been carrying for days. It was another of life’s surprises. I pulled my blanket tighter around my shoulders and decided, at least for one night, to let my worries rise like the smoke and drift away.