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Light My Fire

How do you keep your spirits up? What are your secrets?



I started the fire in our wood stove this morning. What a joy!

It's been a routine in my life for over 50 years. This winter and spring, our first in Bend, it's been my morning duty. For many years Wendy woke up early and carefully placed the finely cut kindling over the wrinkled-up newspaper, lit the match and watched as the fire danced and popped its way into our day.

  • Courtesy Burt Gershater

When we first went searching for a home in Bend, well over a year ago, I told our real estate agent we'd only buy a home that had or could have a wood stove. She hadn't heard that one before, but the whole wood-warming routine had become an inseparable part of our lives.

In the early days, my buddies and I would take our old pickups into the forest and gather our winter's supply. Several cords of pinion, aspen and oak would get us through till the warmer summer days arrived. At 7,000 feet elevation, Flagstaff is slow to leave winter behind.

When we finally did buy our little "miracle" home in Bend, just a 20-second walk from our grandkids' back door, we undeniably landed in a paradise we never imagined! Except for one detail. You guessed it. No wood stove!

It only took a month before we welcomed our new stove home. We ordered a few cords of juniper from Madras and were in heaven. Splitting wood every day, soaking up the gentle heat, filling up the kindling bowl and learning our new stove's unique personality.

Now, we are home!

I am generally a happy guy and when you and I meet someday, I think you'll agree. A deeply felt smile is more common than not. Don't get me wrong, my life is not all roses by a long shot. Still, people often ask, "Burt, how do keep your spirits up? What are your secrets?"

I am always honored to respond to this question.

And there is always a pause between their request and my answer. Often a long pause. I am touched; tears find their way to my eyes. There are few words for this feeling but in the moment, we both feel it.

The answers are related to the first part of this message. It's about warmth, rituals, breath, fire and gratitude. All these are part of the answer to, "Burt, how do you keep your spirits up?"

Before I answer, I ask, "How do you?"

Let's imagine we're sitting around the wood fire, brothers and sisters, friends, a family, all of us pondering this soul-deep question. We are no longer separate. I am no longer only me. You are no longer only you. We are One—pondering, sharing, learning, supporting.

Take a breath. We are in this together...

• Regular gratitude goes to the very top of my list. Every free, conscious moment I try to remember to be thankful. I awaken with gratitude. Go to sleep with gratitude. Eat with gratitude. Light my fire with gratitude.

My favorite wisdom is: Gratitude is simply an acknowledgment of reality and ingratitude is a denial of reality. That's a big one!

• Vibrant movement at least six days a week. My dad taught me that. He worked out twice a day and passed it on to me. Dance, mountain bike, cross-country ski, chop wood, hike, lift a few weights. I always feel better after moving this old body.

• Regular breathing into my belly. The first word in the dictionary under spirit is usually breath. Imagine that. It's magic. True magic.

• Give charity. Somehow, that always works. The giver receives as much as the receiver, usually more. I was once exhorted by a wise teacher to "give till it hurts!" I do my best to follow his words.

Lashon Hara is a law in the Judaic tradition and literally means bad talk about someone. It used to be a natural part of my everyday life. Gossip ultimately hurts three parties, the speaker, the listener and the one spoken about. My life is noticeably brighter since decreasing this old habit.

We must tend to our own fire from sunrise till sunset, every day of our lives. What a beautiful, rewarding task we have been given.

Take good care!

—Burt Gershater is a counselor, leadership trainer, speaker and writer. He can be reached at

Speaking of Bend Oregon Counselor, bend Oregon Column

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