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Jewish World Review Dec. 31, 2002 / 26 Teves 5763

Dayle A. Shockley

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Consumer Reports

A fire has to be stirred -- As I stand at the threshold of a new year, I am remembering that long-ago evening when I almost threw in the towel.

It was the end of a cold and rainy day. I retreated to the sofa with a steaming cup of chocolate and my grandmother's scrap quilt. As the night shadows gathered at the window, a fire crackled in the fireplace, casting an orange glow about the room. Its warmth reached out to me, but the chill in my heart remained untouched.

For three months, I hadn't sat down at my desk to write. Not one single word. After years of free-lancing, I knew what it meant to encounter writer's block. I knew all about rejection letters (I had a drawer full), but this time it was something more: I was thinking about giving it up for good.

While the Creator had blessed me with a certain amount of success, I was growing weary with the struggle, even doubting my abilities. Maybe I had nothing more to offer. Maybe it was time to hang out the sign. Closed. The End.

And so, for three months, my pen lay still.

It wasn't easy. Some nights I tossed and turned till dawn, wrestling with words and phrases that formed in my head, refusing to get up and write them down. But like a quarrelsome child, the words demanded to be heard; they wouldn't leave me alone.

As I watched the fire's flames lick the stack of logs that night, I was struck by a bizarre thought: What would happen if I lit a match to my desk? The computer. Files. Books. Everything. Would anybody notice?

The daunting voices in my head - those I had contended with for three months - answered quickly. "Not one person would notice nor care," they assured me.

Deliberately, I rose from the couch and phoned Cindy, a friend in New Jersey. I knew if anybody could cheer me up, she and her undying belief in my abilities could.

Immediately, she sensed my mood. "You sound depressed, friend." (She has a pleasant habit of calling me that.)

"Yes, I am depressed," I told her. "I am so depressed that I am considering starting a bonfire with my desk." She laughed at first, but then she got serious. "Dayle," she said, "how can you even think about such a thing? You don't want to destroy the gift God has given you."

We talked a long while, and by the time our conversation ended, I felt better but still unsure as I plopped back down onto the sofa.

The flames in the fireplace burned low. The room had grown cold and dark, chilling me to the bone. I walked over to stoke the fire, and when I did, flames shot up, filling the room with hot, red colors. I had stoked the fire in this manner hundreds of times before, but this night the flames held a clear message for me: A fire, when left alone, will burn out. But stir it up, and it becomes a powerful source of light and warmth.

As the fire blazed, I took great comfort in the message it brought. I knew Cindy was right. The Creator had given me a gift, but if I failed to use it, it soon would be nothing more than a pile of ashes. Surely, the gift of G-d still was in me, just waiting to be rekindled.

Armed with a new sense of purpose, I marched into my office, switched on the lamp and powered up the computer.

It isn't often that you experience such distinct moments - a moment when you take away a message from some ordinary action and know without a doubt what your next step should be. But it happened to me, and I think there is a lesson here for the coming year: If you find yourself discouraged and wanting to quit, take some time off, listen to the voices in and around you, weigh your options, phone a friend - then wait for a sign. And when it comes, don't waver but march forward with the greatest of confidence.

JWR contributing columnist Dayle Allen Shockley is a Texas-based author. To comment on this column, please click here.

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© 2002, Dayle Allen Shockley