Like paper in fire

Who’s to say the way

A man should spend his days?

Do you let them smolder

Like paper in fire?

John Mellencamp in “Paper in Fire” from the album The Lonesome Jubilee

I’m not sure if it’s related or not, although probably it is, but as I turn 53 later this week, I’ve had the above lyrics going through my head. In the song, Mellencamp recounts the stories of two people and generations and how they let their lives smolder like paper in fire. The obvious question seemingly Mellencamp is asking himself and us is will we do the same with our lives? The obvious answer is, or on the surface should be, no.

Of course, as we go about our day to day lives, sometimes/often we lose sight of that. We let our lives smolder right along without thinking about it. For me, as I turn 53 on Thursday and will be taking a four-day weekend until Monday, I want to think about it…at least, some.

I have a book that I have been waiting to read, Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman. I also have saved a podcast called On Being with an interview with him by Krista Tippett. I want to get to both this weekend, which to some of you, I’m sure, might not sound the most uplifting way to spend one’s birthday: thinking about mortality.

However, as I’ve been reading the Stoic philosophers like Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus over the last couple of years, I notice that they use mortality as an impetus for life. What are we living for? Just to smolder like paper in fire, and look back when we’re older with regrets? Or to live our life fully with intention, with forethought, not hindsight about what could have been?

I’d like to choose that latter option myself and maybe this week, amidst my other reading and planned relaxation, I can contemplate how I can do that, some of which I already have started with meditation, journaling, and therapy. That doesn’t mean mean that I don’t have “fun” planned too this weekend (because I do), but I still want to incorporate this book and these thoughts into my weekend.

I’ll write more on the fun later in the week…well, later in the week, but for now, I’ll leave you with the song:

10 thoughts on “Like paper in fire

  1. Happy birthday! It’s not my birthday, but I’ve been thinking about similar things. There’s so much I want to do in my life. I keep asking myself why I’m procrastinating and not doing it. Have a great week!


  2. Reflecting on your mortality sounds like a thoughtful way to spend your birthday weekend. I do hesitate to think about comparing parts of my life to smoldering like paper in fire. Comparison is, of course, the thief of joy. And, in contrast to smoldering like paper in fire, do we really want to burn our candle at both ends?

    In any case, I hope you enjoy your weekend. Happy birthday!


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