Answering Life’s Pressing Questions with a Fire Pit and Beer

Sometimes everything in my world aligns for one fleeting instant to provide me with a moment of extreme clarity. It is in those rare moments that all the unimportant things in life fall away, and what’s truly significant seems to be put front and center so I can’t help but notice it. Sometimes those moments involve a fire pit and beer. Last night was one of those moments.

One of my great pleasures in life is sitting in front of a fire. Maybe it’s because I went camping a lot as a kid and it rekindles all those great memories of childhood friendships, storytelling and outdoor adventure. But I think it’s also deeper than that — a primal instinct that kicks in for all of us from that primitive part of our brains, just as it has for millions of years. To be near the fire with those we trust means protection and warmth. It means our group has been fed and we’ll all be safe through at least one more sleep.

As we sat around our friends’ backyard fire pit in northern Colorado, sipping from our koozies and chatting about nothing in particular, that moment of clarity revealed itself. The sky had turned from that pure blue you only see in Colorado, to a gorgeous sunset that provided our backdrop for the evening. My wife and I had stopped here on the first leg of our year-long trip around the world, to to meet up with our friends one last time before leaving the country. We had been equal parts excited and nervous for the trip up to this point, but that all melted away as we sat around this fire.

I listened to my wife laugh and re-tell old stories with her Colorado friends whom she had known since college. Our friends’ fantastic home and ample backyard were a welcome change from the small DC apartment we had just moved from, and it served as a reminder to what you can have when you make the choice to live outside the city.

As I sat and listened to the group chatting around the fire, it became clear to me that this is one of the things we had been searching for all along. It’s cliché, but these simple pleasures of being near loved ones, sharing and laughing, are really among the few things we’re all really looking for. That moment was basically why we booked a flight to make Windsor, Colorado, the first stop on our around-the-world trip. We were only at the start of our journey, and as I embraced the slight buzz and the great conversation, I regretted that we’d be away from this kind of great camaraderie for so long. But I also knew that we were getting a very vivid reminder that this “simple life” can really be attainable when we return from our trip. By making some choices, we can re-create this in DC, or anywhere we end up.

A few years before, I had been sitting under a beach umbrella with my then-girlfriend’s brother Ryan. He lived in the Virgin Islands and we were visiting him for our vacation. I kept chattering to Ryan about how great it must be to live on an Island and if only I could live like this — with the beach nearby, the constant sunny weather and the island lifestyle at our doorstep that life would be so much better for me. In retrospect, it was probably a nagging comment he had heard a lot from visitors to the island. I understood better how misguided and one-sided I was being when he just simply said, “Ya know, Jim, life’s about choices.” The conversation ended there, as I experienced another moment of clarity. I wasn’t relegated to city life, and Ryan hadn’t been magically transported to this place. We had both chosen to be where we were, whether I wanted to acknowledge it at that point or not.

Life really is about making choices. We’d just completed one of the biggest and hardest decisions of our lives — to quit our jobs and travel the world for a year. That choice will bring fantastic experiences and lifetime memories, but it also means we will be giving up some things we prize — most notably being in the presence of people we love. We will miss our family and friends, but I think a year away will help us strengthen those bonds when we return, and help ensure we make a choice to do what’s necessary to be able to sit around the fire for a lifetime, enjoying the warmth.