A few weeks ago, a 21 year old rock climber named Max Lenali died in a tragic hiking accident. He was friends with one of my closest friends at BC.
Some of Max’s friends organized a memorial service for him at a beach in Providence, Rhode Island near Brown University where he went to school.
During the service we huddled together in a circle each holding onto a candle. As the wax from my candle melted onto my gloves and froze, I listened to Max’s friends share with the group what Max meant to them.
“He always brought the stoke,” one of Max’s rock climbing friends said with a teary chuckle.
That stuck with me.
When we got home, I wrote, “Bring the stoke” on the chalk wall in my apartment.
A few weeks later, I find myself reflecting on what it means to ‘Bring the stoke.’ Is this just hippie California earthy crunchy nature person slang?
A stoke is a tool that you use to tend a fire so that it burns brighter, warmer, and higher.
After the sun went down during Max’s memorial service, our toes and fingers started to go numb. Mostly strangers, we huddled around a couple of hot fires – each burning in Max’s memory.
The metaphor of a ‘fire’ is a good one to describe what is inside of all of us. Some philosophers, like John Locke, believed that people are ‘blank slates’ or ’empty vessels.’ We are filled up by experiences and information that pours into us during our lives. I think that Locke was wrong.
Plutarch writes, “The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled.”
We all have a fire within us because we are ALIVE. Some people, like Max, get really good at stoking their own fire. Multiple people said that they will remember Max as a kid who liked to eat a healthy dinner and get to bed early before a day of climbing the next morning. Those are great ways to add logs to the fire.
God gives us all a spark. That is His gift. It is up to us to ‘bring the stoke’ and to get the fire blazing. It is our responsibility to add logs to our own fire or to tend a friend’s when their’s is burning low.
It has been a hard year for all of us. It is cold and dark out there. Perhaps now more than ever we need people who can ‘bring the stoke’ like Max did. We need people who can tend the fire.
I am trying to reflect on ways that I can bring the stoke. I’m asking myself, how can I burn a little bit brighter today?
This service got me thinking about how fragile life is – even for someone my age. The spark of life is a gift from God. Inevitably, that fire will go out. Realizing that can feel like a lot of pressure! But as my favorite singer songwriter John Craigie says, “You don’t gotta be perfect, you don’t gotta be a saint. Just don’t waste it, this was not a mistake!”
Bring the stoke. That fire in you is not a mistake.