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As columnist Mark Shields was bidding his retirement farewell to viewers of the PBS News Hour last night he mentioned a life ethic that had been passed to him by his father. It was a perspective that had oriented Mark in his journalism career, and had focused him on the very idea of America and on creating a legacy of contribution. Always remember, his dad had told him, that β€œwe are warmed by fires that we did not build.”

That’s actually a biblical reference, to a passage in the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy that encourages a sobering gratitude that comes from remembering the work and sacrifices of the generations who have gone before. But it struck me now in the context of weaving. Our efforts, large and small, to knit together a more promising and life-giving present and future can have frustratingly few immediate and tangible results. β€œI start a conversation and nobody gives a rip. I try to point out how we’re better off together than apart and everybody sits there, scowling, with their arms crossed. I say, β€˜Let’s let bygones be bygones and let go of the past so we can build a better tomorrow,’ and it’s clear they’re not buying it; they want to win, not cooperate.”

It’s easy to become discouraged. Tempting, in the face of that discouragement, to quiet down and settle into a secure seat in a tribe of like-mindedness.

But that’s not what got us here.

What got us here were our ancestors in courage, those who wouldn’t settle, those who in conflicted and troubling times showed all the way up and kept extending a hand. Those are the people who built the fires that warm us today. I’ve never really thought of myself as a fire-builder, but thanks to Mark Shields’ dad and the Book of Deuteronomy, I do now.

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Roger, thank you so much for sharing this. I am not a particularly religious person, but find strong meaning in the quote you shared. As a young person, it helps me process the many social + environmental issues I see today knowing that my generation is building off the important work / fires began by others. We are not in this movement alone.

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