Matches and light

It seems to me like just yesterday, but it was actually many years ago when having a box of matches at home or at hand was an absolute necessity. If you were a smoker, or used a gas light or a gas cooker at home, and especially if you were a camper, we were never without access to a box – or at least a flint lighter. These days, perhaps a prudent householder or camper might have a candle or two squirreled away in case of a blackout, or perhaps some smaller ones for a birthday cake, when a box of matches does become handy!

I was thinking about matches, and particularly the wood and trees from which they were made (I also remember the waxed vestas that still worked, even when wet!) as I trickled my way slowly through a very long book I have been reading “The Overstory” by Richard Powers. The way the author takes us through the story of wood is, at times, heart-stopping and stark. He skilfully engages our hearts and minds as he exposes the lives of concerned people and deforestation.

Before I had read this book the extent, pervasiveness, and diverse use of timber in our lives had not occurred to me in such graphic terms. I’m now, more than ever, conscious of the use and overuse of many other ‘staples’ in our lives, such as oil and water. In a vague, philosophical way, it also led me to consider aspects of our consumer-driven lives that I hadn’t deeply thought about before.

Now, after reading that book, I am more likely to see, or at least look for, other aspects of consumerism – which in turn, led me  back to basics: the beauty and serenity of our natural environment, the intricate web of raw nature, of God’s realm, and how precious all of it is. I can now more readily recognise a lack of balance between ‘development’ and ‘growth’, and more aware of the despoiling of such large tracts of our forest, resulting in ever-decreasing areas of natural treescapes – and the barrenness and soil degradation that follows.

Such a big issue, yet difficult to see in its enormity when, as individuals, we are such small players in the total-earth scheme of things! Too often we don’t see beyond the immediate impact of our own lifestyle choices. And then, in a world where so many people are affected so grievously by the forces of nature, and many more by brawling and fighting at a national level, it’s hard to be anything but dejected and sad.

As individuals we can usually only make comparatively small efforts to alleviate this suffering – with donations of money, even time, and some with expertise. Nevertheless, we can also demonstrate our care for people, and for the earth, in what we choose to do, say, and buy.

By remembering that each tiny match came from a felled tree – which denuded a forest somewhere and disturbed a natural interdependence; only then we can begin to glimpse a tiny part of a bigger picture.

Now, when I think of a matchstick I think of its source – the tree and the forest and the earth and wonder, in awe of how we all coexist in such a complex web of interdependency of natural resources! For our survival and for the sake of future generations we must learn to recognise and cherish each part of that network. A match made in heaven, indeed, may show us the light!