I'm taking the holiday weekend off, so I thought I'd share one of Open Road's most-read blogs from 2014, written shortly after the Fourth of July. This one’s for all of us who love to play with fire…in the healthiest of ways.
Originally published on July 7, 2014
After a simply gorgeous holiday weekend, I'm enjoying a cool, cloudy morning here in Toledo, Ohio. It's like the calm after the storm...because for the past couple of weeks I've gone to bed listening to the boom and pop of firecrackers, bottle rockets, and Roman candles. Loud, explosive racket is not my cup of tea, so it's really not until the week after the Fourth of July that I really begin to enjoy the summer season.
The anticipation of the holiday weekend is over. Crickets and cicadas now serenade the city with their rhythmic cadence. And I can fall asleep without the scent of sulfur and smoke drifting through my open windows. There seems to be a peace that permeates the energy around my little house in the Heartland that's hard to describe now that the crash and boom of the fireworks is over.
Not that I don't like a small inferno now and again, mind you.
Ever since I was little I've been fascinated by fire. I can remember Sunday afternoons in the middle of winter when my mother would let my sisters and me light a candle in the middle of the kitchen table. We'd meticulously peel back the wrappers of old crayons and melt them in the flickering flame to create colorful, waxy pictures on a paper plate. I wasn't all that interested in what I was making; I'd much rather gaze at the transformation of something once solid into a gooey liquid that could burn my fingers if I let it. And sometimes I did -- just to see what it would feel like.
Years later when my life was chaotic and unstable, I'd come home in the evening, turn off all the lamps and light a white candle on the coffee table, then sit and stare at the flame...studying the blue center...marveling at the way it would turn the tangible wax into vapor.
When I lived at Esalen Institute, a friend of mine casually observed the fact that I've always been attracted to fiery men. "I don't know if that's what you really need," he said. "You've got enough fire power for ten people."
It was true. I worked like a horse. Plodded through a task with the tenacity to plow through and overcome any adversity. Like the wildfires that slowly charred the Santa Lucia mountains during my stay in Big Sur, I was persistent enough to burn through old patterns of being in order to allow new growth to emerge from the ashes.
After all, I was born with Mars in Leo -- and for those of you who don't know much about astrology, that's a pretty powerful placement. To combine the energy of the planet of ambition, fire, and power with the drive and determination of needing to be creative, no matter how many obstacles are in my way, I can understand why I was a workaholic for so many years. It took a long, long time to transform my innate tendency from a raging bonfire to a hospitable hearth.
Now I realize the reason I'm attracted to fire is not for the heat and intensity of what it appears to be at first sight...but for the transformative power it has to create complete and utter change. No other element can instantly reduce a stack of paper into ashes. Water will take a while to dissolve it. Earth will take even longer to create the pressure necessary to change paper into pulp. Air may rip it to shreds, but even though it may take a different form and shape, it's still inherently what it is.
Fire changes anything instantly. It's one of the reasons I choose to use it as a ritual when I need to let go of something or want to create something new. When I need to rid myself of old baggage or open the door to an alternate way of being. I've burned old cards and letters. Journal entries. I've ceremoniously written out lists of what I want and then burned them, sending a silent prayer along with the smoke that an unseen force will get the message and deliver the goods.
Word to the wise: like that old adage says, "Be careful what you wish for." I'd amend it to "be careful what you write and transform with fire" because on several occasions, I've wished for something too specific and the results blew up in my face, burning me one too many times because I set an intention with too many parameters. After all, fire knows no boundaries and can easily change direction as the wind blows.
Every culture uses fire in celebration. To honor the dead. As a symbol for light or enlightenment. Fire is perhaps the most primitive element in our transformation toolbox. And it's by far my favorite one.
During this past deep-freeze of a winter, I was imminently thankful every time my furnace roared to life. Thankful the hot water tank hummed along so I could take warm showers after shoveling mountains of snow. As springtime emerged, I delighted in the rising sun, the warmer days, the return of brighter solar energy to our hemisphere. And I'm certain as fall approaches, I'll light more candles in the evening and relax in my living room while the flames flicker and reflect off of the walls and hardwood.
But today I have other plans.
For a few weeks I've felt as though I'm on the cusp of something I can't quite describe. Something's imminent and I can see my old hesitation to trust in the unknown. To trust something new. It's in moments like these that I'm reminded of a simple rite of passage that I use in times like these.
A few years ago, I wrote someone a much-needed letter. I said everything I didn't say when we were together. Everything I needed to say to him now. I opened a vein and bled my heart dry on the pages, draining myself of whatever sorrow still trickled through my veins.
At the end I wrote, "I need to burn this so that I can have the freedom to move on. To forgive. To let go."
That night I took the letter outside and burned it in a glass bowl on the edge of my flower gardens. Burned it until the paper had crinkled and curled. Burned it until there was nothing left but a small pile of ashes.
Or so I thought.
The next morning, I went outside to get the bowl and noticed that in the tiny heap of cinders, there were two minuscule scraps of paper. One was blank. The other had been charred, but not completely destroyed. Browned around the edges, only one word could be easily seen: "free."
I'm not a pyromaniac in the literal sense, although I love the freedom fire allows me to embrace as I transform that which has been into that which is no more. So tonight I'll write a few pages sitting at the very same table at which I used to melt crayons as a child, then burn them surrounded by the gardens in my backyard. I'll be celebrating freedom on my own, and it will be a quiet, simple Independence Day.
One that will surely outlast any fireworks display on the block.