What fire can’t destroy

I have anxiety.

When I get overly stressed, it flares up, like a tree on fire in the middle of a dark forest. There are pops and cracks. Animals flee with the life-and-death urgency that an uncontained flame elicits. The air feeds it and then becomes tainted by it, thick and hard to breathe as the reach of its destruction expands.

I’ve tried containing it myself, hurling positive affirmations like buckets of water. I’ve tried ignoring it, pretending not to feel the heat. I’ve futilely tried to birthday-candle-blow it out with all my might, until I’m half-dead from exhaustion.

But see when you find yourself alone in the middle of the dark woods without a phone or a prayer, you become desperate. You’ll try anything. You yell and scream and cry for help. You know how foolish this is, but it doesn’t compare with how scared you are. Your intensity is nothing compared to the funeral pyre raging inside.

When it’s clear I can no longer handle it myself, I frantically warn those in its path. Sometimes they try to help. Sometimes they run. Sometimes they stare in contempt as if to say, “Don’t tell me. Call the fire department!” Sometimes they blame me for starting it. They yell, this house wasn’t on fire when I bought it! What’s wrong with this house?! And I faintly whisper against loud explosions, “It’s not the house…”

Fire allowed humans to cook their food, create tools, stay warm, and ultimately survive for at least the last 400,000 years. It gave us bonfires. It gave us sparklers and fireworks. It gave us wood-burning stoves. It gave us s’mores. It even gave us smoking.

But we only love it when we can control it.

There’s no guaranteed way to prevent fires altogether. That’s unrealistic — especially when you live in Northern California and conditions tend to be right. We don’t get enough rain. Everything is too dry. The sun is fierce, and it shines fiercely much of the year. People like to camp and hike in this beautiful part of the country I call home. And they also accidentally trigger catastrophic events.

Everything in a fire’s path can be ignited and eventually devoured by it. It leaves a blackness around it, and the scars remain long after it’s been reduced to soot. It takes a long time for flora to grow back. But given enough time, it will. Nature has a way of regulating.

I do not wish to eradicate fire. A world without it would be a far more dire place: eyes with no spark, ideas without creativity, apathy in place of passion.

Like the firefighters who train for the moment that alarm bell sounds and dauntlessly attack it every day of dry season, I wish only to understand fire and to more expertly contain it.

If you’ve never been a firefighter, you’ll never know all the work, and strength, and courage fighting a fire requires. The sheer stamina.

If you’ve never had a house fire, you can’t truly know the unique devastation of losing your home, your dearest possessions — a loved one — all in one shot.

But as a human being, you’v experienced fear. You have the capacity to feel compassion. You may not know exactly how fire works, but that doesn’t make it wrong. It doesn’t make it not exist.

Fire is not an element. It’s an event. It’s part of a series of chemical reactions, the tangible side effect of matter changing state. It will continue to burn as long as there’s fuel and oxygen around it.

Fire can be extremely destructive, yes. But, it always produces water and warmth. It always produces light.


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