I love fire. It burns very close to my heart. I love to watch it, the flames twisting and turning, the blast furnace of the coals underneath, the crackling and sparking, the transformation of everything it touches, the warmth, the need to breathe, the need for fuel. I have always loved to watch fires and longed to tend them. I remember my father lighting fires in our fireplace when I was a kid. I remember watching him twist newspaper into little starter twigs. I remember the wood piled up next to the fire. I remember sitting on one of the round wicker stools we had, turned on its side so I could rock back and forth in my seat.
I want fire. I need fire. But I don’t get it very much.
I remember collecting pretty candles when I was a little girl. In Georgetown, we even lived near a candle factory where beautiful candles, works of art really, were made. We would take out-of-town visitors there to see the candlemaking and maybe buy souvenirs. But in our house, candles were never for burning. I remember how much my mother freaked out the one time she caught me lighting one of my candles in my room, and I never dared to light fire under her roof again.
We weren’t allowed to touch fireworks, either. We would go to the municipal fireworks shows, big fireworks up in the sky, but we were never ever allowed to even be near fireworks on the ground. One time, I spent the fourth of July with some cousins, a younger cousin my age and I staying with another cousin maybe 15 or 20 years older than us. She let us set off some little firecrackers in the trailer park that night and sent each of us home with a packet of our own. My packet went straight into the bottom of my mother’s top dresser drawer. She always said I could set it off later, another time, not now. I finally stole it back when I was a teenager and snuck out of the house in the middle of the night to set some off in the street with a friend.
Fire, always lurking, always beckoning, always forbidden. Look but don’t touch. See the fire, but don’t tend the fire, don’t light your own fire, never. Girl scouts don’t light fires, their leaders light the fire and keep them safely back from it.
When I moved out, off to college and marriage and all of that, I loved candles. No longer forbidden, they were something to play with and live with. I could read and eat and even bathe by candlelight if I wanted, with the dancing of the flames causing the light to dance around me. I would make wax-covered wine bottles, spending hours with candles burning, turning the bottles this way and that to let the wax drip evenly down. I loved to use candles in magick, burning them for vigils, anointing them and carving them and burning them to release.
When you’re renting, you still can’t have a real fire. No fireplace in most apartments, no yard for a firepit. Camping was never something we did, either. When we bought our first house, it had a fireplace, but we kept it locked up, literally with chains and a padlock holding the doors closed, because we had to keep the triplets out of it. We couldn’t risk any flames when they were babies, except maybe occasionally a candle here and there when they were asleep. So many years, still without my own fire. We’d go to eat at a restaurant with a fire and I would go and sit in front of the fireplace with one or more of my kids, either waiting for the meal or after it, just watching the fire, only watching, forbidden to touch.
I never see anybody else watching the fires like that.
I get to see fires more now, but they are still forbidden. Sacred fires, bound by restrictions even stronger than my mother’s panic. The priests in charge start the fires, the firetenders start and tend the fire, but I do not start the fires, not ever. The fires are not mine, look only, do not touch, do not tend, do not fuel. Now my kids are old enough to tend fires, so when the opportunity arises, I must stand aside and let them have their turn, let them learn and build and tend the fire. Somebody else has started the fire, has brought the wood to fuel it, it’s their fire. Still not my fire.
I live in a house with no wood fireplace, only a small gas fireplace in one room. We have no backyard where a firepit could be placed. No place for my fire.
So it was indeed a wondrous and joyous thing for me last night to be able to tend a fire. I didn’t get to light it, but I was left to tend it for almost five hours, adding the wood, placing it just so, building the flames, helping them breathe when they faltered, watching the coals, lighting new pieces. The time passed so quickly, so fast. I came to the fire broken inside. I had spent most of the day in tears, feeling the mountain of “can’t” crumbling down on top of me, can’t keep up, can’t find a way through, can’t find the money, can’t find the time, can’t keep the patience, can’t stop things from breaking, until every single blessed thing I saw or heard or did brought the tears back up again. Tears can’t stand up to fire, though. The fire boils them away, cauterizes the wound, builds back life and warmth. That fire still wasn’t mine, not my backyard, not my firepit, not my wood, but I still got to tend it, help it grow, and I left the fire cleansed and fresh, content, maybe even happy.
I am back in no-fire land again, back with the tears, cold. Someday, sometime, I’ll get to do it again. Maybe someday, I will have my own fire.