You may think this title to be a mere metaphor. But no, my children. I’m talking about the real deal: walking barefoot on live coals along with all the other brazen idiots who were doing the same thing. The theory behind it is: if you can walk on fire and not get burned, you can do ANYthing – ANY-THING – you put your mind to do.
It all started when… No, dere eez too much. Lemme ‘splain… o’ rather, lemme sum-up. I have spent the last 14-or-so years of my life looking for answers to a deep personal query. You may ask what this query is, but it’s personal so I’m not going to tell you. In the process of all this searching I took several self-improvement classes designed to help me with my life’s goals and ambitions. One of these classes had as a component a fire-walk. Now frankly, given the other things they put us through in these classes, this was actually pretty tame. Piece o’ cake* (see note). Oh yeah!
Part of the preparation for this insanity were a few other insane exercises like breaking boards with our hand – which was actually pretty cool! I felt all ninjaesque for a brief period before it got weird and they had us break an arrow with our throat. Yup. You heard me right. A standard archery arrow is placed between the victim and the wall, pointy-end right in that soft spot of your neck where a necklace trinket rests — the suprasternal notch — a very vulnerable point to be certain. And then we were asked to walk forward applying continuous pressure on the arrow until it snaps. You think that sounds easy? Try it sometime. Or rather, maybe don’t try it sometime. I don’t want to be the cause of any 911 emergency calls.
It’s like, in the process of trying to “build you up,” they have to tear you down first… Apparently to the point of mortal suicide! Because who in their right mind would do such a thing? I suppose that’s the point as well: to put one in your right mind instead of your left. Believing in the impossible, rather than believing in the well-documented fact that if organic flesh touches fire, it will be cooked extra-crispy in direct correlation with how intense the contact: both duration and pressure.
Now, here’s a little something about me – again: In my entire life, I have not ever gone barefoot anywhere. (OK, except perhaps when swimming. It’s kinda hard to get away with it there.) My feet are extremely sensitive with baby-soft skin. It is torture to walk on anything but the softest grass. Surely this must mean something deep-seated and intensely profound about my psyche, although I have absolutely no idea what that would be. Or it could just mean I have tender feet.
Let’s top that off with a little knee surgery. A few months earlier I tore my ACL… um, four times. It was misdiagnosed as a sprain the first time so I kept walking on it, tearing it over and over. I kept thinking, “Dang this really hurts, but stop being such a wuss! The doc said it’s only a sprain. Grit your teeth and deal with it!… Ya big baby.” By the time the orthopedic surgeon got in there, my knee was “hamburger” – his words, not mine – and I’d fractured my femur as well. Eight weeks non-weight-bearing physical therapy brought me to limping-on-crutches stage.
By the way, just as a side-note, if there are any true sadists out there reading this, I suggest you take up physical therapy as a preemptive occupation. I assume that it will satisfy every perverse desire you could possibly have to watch another person writhe in absolute agony. During the course of my treatment, I saw burly muscular grown men cry. I actually didn’t. I learned a long time ago that a really focused infusion of anger and resentment dries the tears before they have a chance to squeeze out through the slits of your pain-pierced eyelids. The grimace helps too. You know, like the Hulk: Grrrr…
Anyway, as I was saying, I approached this firewalk as a true tenderfoot (pun intended) and limping on crutches. Certainly, the crutches wouldn’t survive a pass over the coals. They’d melt like a grilled cheese sandwich. As I was bound to them in order to ambulate, I thought maybe I wouldn’t be a firewalker after all. Of course, if you’ve read anything of my other experiences on this blog you know – don’t you? – I’m never that lucky.
My dearest friend, whom I’ve known for years, offered to be my crutches. She was in this class too, and offered to walk with me, letting me support my weak leg by leaning on her shoulder and using her as my crutch. Now, when someone offers something like this, there is no way to refuse. How many people do you know who would put themselves “in harm’s way” like this, literally braving the fire for you as a friend? No matter how much I might have liked to get out of this lunacy, there was no way in heaven or earth I could have said, “no” to my dear friend for such a selfless act of pure kindness. Wow, wow, and wow again! Now that made me cry.
The coals had been raked out into a rectangular oblong swath: a blistering carpet of soft ash. It was actually kinda pretty. The warm hues rising and falling, swirling around each other in a scintillating sea of smoldering soot. Phlogiston percolated just above, contorting the air and light and sound and color of all that dare pass over. Embers took flight from the searing conflagration into the great beyond, their life and light trailing behind them. Hypnotic. Beautiful. Deadly. A thermometer noted the fire’s temperature to be roughly twelve-hundred degrees (1,200) Fahrenheit.
Hmmmm. Not for the first time in my life did I ask myself, “What the hello-Margarie-Meridith-Dodge was I thinking?”
And so it began. I removed my shoes and socks. (Yeah, it was 90 degrees outside and I don’t even wear sandals.) The rough, unpaved ground hurt… a lot. One after the other, after the other, after the other: each member of the class walked across. I cheered them on with everyone else, part of my brain still simultaneously trying to come to grips with this madness. And then she was by my side, holding out her arm as one might do to lead the blind.
Ironic, that: Leading the blind. Was I blind? How was it that everyone else seemed to be connecting with their inner-most self, blissfully walking on FIRE! while I still struggled to even find my inner-voice.
“Thank you,” I said, weakly.
“You don’t have to do this, you know,” she reassured me.
“I know.” I stood there for a moment, hesitating. I had been envisioning the future, concentrating on my goals, my future life, my future husband (if he’s ever brave enough to show up), what I wanted to accomplish, what I wanted to let go – that’s the past. I had been preparing for this by living in the future and the past. I tend to do that… a lot.
And then I looked at her, my friend, who stood there with such… an awareness. Such kindness. She’s “in the moment,” I thought. This took me instantly back to my actor’s training. Being “in the moment” is the only way to connect with true emotion. Actors who perform “in the moment” can never be wrong because it’s absolute truth. Whatever comes out is the truth of the moment and it is always stunning to behold an actor who performs truly “in the moment.”
I banished the past and wiped the future clean. I took my friend’s arm and limped over to the starting line. I am here. I am now. I am walking… on… fire! And before I know it, I’m done. I hear the cheers from my classmates, but all I see are the eyes of my friend. Clear green and as deep as all eternity.
You know, I’ve heard it said that “God apologizes for our family by giving us friends.” Sometimes, it feels like that. Today, it kinda felt like that.
*NOTE: One free “ImaCrab” hat to the first person who can guess my favorite kind o’ cake. (Even though I’m gluten-free, I can still dream about it!) And don’t forget to tell me YOUR favorite kind! — Mayhap, even WHY it’s your favorite?
Ready, set, GO!