Anyone who’s ever been around a campfire knows you can only stand so close. There is a point at which the flames sear and scald instead of warming. There is an unseeable edge of heat that begins to crackle the skin, wrinkling flesh with dryness. It’s just beyond this edge, not quite touching the flame, where marshmallows roast to perfection and darkening ash whirls outwards quickly. It’s the place where sneakers begin to melt instead of drying, where wet woolen mittens cringe rather than shrink. It’s this space that makes your face morph from flushed to blistering.
Standing in this space is a constant battle. You lean in, you feel your face get brittle. You lean out and the night begins to chill you. You kind of hover, and in-out-in motion that keeps your nerve endings jangling. Then there’s a gust of wind, a blast of sparks, or a new swirl of smoke that makes the fire edge uninhabitable, at least momentarily.
I come from a long line of stubborn hard-nosers with raging tempers on both sides. It is this fact that makes my own life – my relationships, my career choices, my moral code, and my lifestyle – its own edge of fire. I dance at the edges of other people, flitting only close enough to be slightly warmed or a little flushed. I have yet to fully commit to a single career path, leaning in or out in one direction or another as I circle the potential brightness of future jobs. I edge a narrow line of responsibility and freedom.
It’s true that most of us act in a similar fashion. Most of us just dance at the edges of life. Most of us are afraid of the bad burns, the scarring, the pain, and the possible loss that fire causes. But there are some few – fire eaters, hot coal walkers, special effects technicians and stunt men – that master the delicate balance of heat and burning, flame and ash. I wonder if my life would be fuller if I learned to walk the fire, instead of tentatively bordering it.