Walking the fire.

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.

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The Adventures of Podunk Jo – Adventure 2: Vacationing?

After various awards ceremonies and and endless stream of banquets, Jo was finally able to return to Nine Rivers for the last little bit of her vacation time. True, what with all the lesson planning she needed to get done before the start of term, it wouldn’t be much of a vacation. Still, it was home. She looked forward to spending some quality time with Tigger again, away from the crowds, from the fame. The only thing she was worried about was how to delicately say goodbye to Retardo.

She had tried, on several occasions, to indicate that perhaps the girl would be happier with her own space, her own life. Or perhaps back wherever she’d come from-back learning more Chinese medicine, maybe.  But Retardo always claimed that she was happiest with Tigger. Podunk didn’t want to share her reservations about Retardo with him either — he seemed so genuinely fond of her.

At last, it was time for Jo to go. She packed up her bags, but delayed speaking to Retardo until she was about to head for the train. Finally, she could avoid it no longer.

“Retardo,” Podunk Jo began, “it’s time for us to go. We need to return to Nine Rivers to get ready for the start of the school term.”

“Nine Rivers? Really? What are we waiting for? I can’t wait to see your hometown!” She and Tigger proceeded to link arms and do a little jig.

“Er…it’s not really our hometown…” How could Jo say she didn’t want Retardo to come now, after all the excitement?

“Yeah right. Next you’ll be telling me you’re from London and he’s from the Hundred Acre Woods.”

***

On the way to the train station, Podunk Jo and Retardo happened to pass a very strange street performer. This person (obviously a foreigner, despite her dark hair) was doing around a strange burning bush. At some points, she seemed to fan the flame, or at least gesture towards it: at others, she sidestepped or scurried away, as if in fear. Jo gave her a double take, and then a wide berth. Retardo, of course, was enthralled. She mimicked a few of the dance moves, and then had a glimmer of recognition. She began frantically digging in her bag. Tigger and Jo looked at Retardo with wide eyes, then at each other. They shook thier heads resignedly almost in unison.

Don’t worry, I’ll save you!” Retardo finally cried, holding her water bottle aloft. She rushed over and splashed out all the water on the wildly waving figure.

The girl stopped, wiped off her dripping face, and sighed. Tigger, ever-resourceful, provided a hankie.

“Why did you soak that poor girl?” Jo finally asked. “It wasn’t a very nice thing to do!”

Retardo looked at Jo with amazement. “Didn’t you see her gesturing? She was giving the International Gesture for ‘urgent – add water’.”

Jo was amazed that there was such a thing as an international gesture for urgent or add water, but she kept the thought to herself. “Do you think maybe she wanted you to add water to the burning plant over there?”

“The plant? Don’t be silly. She was probably overheated from repeated gesturing.”

The odd girl had been examining them closely. “So you both speak English? I should’ve known. ” She held out a hand. “My name is Samantha Anti-Danger Smith, but you can call me Sam.”

Jo nodded shook her hand briskly, and introduced everyone all around. “Anti-Danger is an odd sort of middle name. Any story behind it?”

“I’d better show you.” She put out a finger, and stretched it out to touch one leaf of the still-burning plant. Instantly, all the flames were extinguished. Podunk wondered why she hadn’t just done that in the first place.

“Right, well, we must be off to the train station…”

“Why don’t you come with us!” Retardo exclaimed. “We’re off to Nine Rivers for vacation. We could take you around and show you all the sights.”

Sam’s eyebrows raised. “That sounds nice. I’d be happy to.”

Inwardly, Jo groaned. This supposed vacation was turning into a bleeding circus.