Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Oh, I'm on Fire


With my fifth wedding anniversary approaching in just a few weeks, recently I have been reflecting on when I first met my husband, the first few exciting weeks of what would turn out to be something of a whirlwind courtship, and the first weeks and months of our married life. After having dated both some nice guys and some duds, I was a bit cautious and hesitant on our first few dates, but our love caught flame very quickly and never died down. And it occurred to me that romantic relationships have a lot in common with campfires.

If you’ve never built a campfire, you might not realize quite how complicated it can be. There are lots of different ways to go about it. You can build your kindling into a pyramid, or a tower, or just a pile. You can use a firestarter log. You can use a lighter, or a match, or rub two sticks together for that first spark. But no matter how you do it, you’re still apt to get a variety of results – as my sister is fond of describing her campfires, you can get anything from a smolder to a full-out conflagration. Sometimes the wood catches fire right away in a flash of heat and light, but then dwindles down to nothing and goes out. Sometimes you have to work for a long time getting nothing but wisps of smoke until suddenly a tiny flame begins to gradually grow. Sometimes you never get more than those few wisps so you just abandon it and start over. But whether your fire catches quickly or slowly, sometimes it settles into a steady, warm, cozy glow that is just what you hoped it would be. And as long as you are careful to feed and tend your fire, it will continue to keep you warm and cozy.

Most romantic relationships have a parallel in some kind of fire building. Sometimes there’s a flash of intense heat at the beginning, but it burns out quickly without ever catching on. But sometimes that flash of heat can ignite a deeper flame that continues to burn steadily. Sometimes there’s hardly a flicker at the beginning that will go out if abandoned, but if you put some time and effort into keeping it going, sometimes it will slowly grow in intensity and eventually burst into a stronger flame. And sometimes, even with your best efforts, it will fizzle and die and you’ll have to start all over again.

But the most interesting parallel is how each of those efforts that doesn’t quite result in a steady fire leaves its mark on the wood and makes it more ready to burn the next time. If the wood is a bit wet, those early attempts dry it out and temper it so it’s more receptive to the flame. A fire that burns a bit longer before going out may leave deeper, charred scars – but that process has begun to turn the firewood into charcoal: a potent fuel source that is ready not just to catch fire, but to stay burning steadily for a long time.
 
As anyone who has ever struggled to build a campfire can attest, those first, unsuccessful attempts at starting a fire are frustrating, and aggravating, and make you want to chuck it all. But if you stick with it, keep trying different techniques, pat yourself on the back for every spark you achieve, and have some patience, there’s a pretty good chance that eventually you’ll be basking in the warm glow of a fire. And in the meantime, it’s never a bad idea to ask for advice from other campers who’ve got solid campfires burning – not only can they offer you some tips, they might even know of a smoldering twig who can light your fire.
 

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