My personal firestorm...
(Note to reader: I wrote this last year in the wake of the Thomas Fire. I did not publish it then out of respect for all those who lost so much more. I share it now because it feels important to do so. My prayer is that no one will be offended and some may find some small comfort...)
December 11, 2017
Sigh. That is where I am. Sigh.
I do not know if I have the strength to do the day. I feel so lost. While I did not lose my home in the fire, I did lose so many things: Security, Lane, Sleep, A feeling of being safe, An innocence where I believed Ojai was secure and free from all the horrors of the world. I know that fire is cleansing and I can see my own need for a spiritual cleansing. I see how this last week has the power to change me. But I have also seen just how married we all are to who we are. Change is hard. Packing up and leaving is hard. Watching from a distance is hard. Coming back is hard. Staying is hard.
Crisis calls us to be our best selves. But what happens when the crisis is over? Who are we then? It seems that those larger selves only shadow who we are when the fire goes out. I wonder if the fire fighters feel like this? They are celebrated and regaled as heroes but sooner or later they return home to raise their families, do the dishes and laundry, fight with their spouse. Do they feel the let down? Do they mourn the loss of being heroic? Do they feel lost? I can imagine that it is easy to feel needed, valued, deserving while the fires are burning all around and they are what stands in the way of life or death, ruble and structure. But what happens when they go home - where people are not celebrating them all the time and saying thank you and worshipping them for saving them from a fiery death? At home they are just regular people leading ordinary lives. Do they feel like they have lost something that they will never get back?
During the fire my relationship of two years burned to the ground...only charred remnants of an amazing love story remain. I have walked through the ashy fragments of a love that I thought would save me. I can find some happy memories here and there. But mostly I feel lost, let down and overwhelmed by the feeling that I will never have again what I have lost. During this love story, I was a hero, thanked and worshipped even. Now who am I after the fire? Who am I when I am not being honored and loved and lifted up by the spirit of another? I feel lost and afraid and changed in some way that I cannot identify.
There are so many things that I could tell you about why this love was amazing and I could also tell you a million reasons why it was fucked from the start. In any story, there are a million ways to knit together and a million ways to splinter. This love story did both as most love stories do. I don’t think the story is in the knitting or splintering but more in the decision to part ways. We say that we are different, but that is just a convenient way to say that I love the way that I am more than I love the other person. You cannot marry more than one person (at least not legally) so you remain married to the one you married first.
In my love story, he was married to himself. Now before you think he was a selfish prick, (he was at times), but that is not the whole story. Way back when he was small, his world became so terrifying and there was no one there to comfort him. He desperately needed someone to love him, hold him and show up for him but there was no one there. He raised himself surrounded by others who were forever kept at a distance. They didn’t treat him badly and he wasn’t abused. He was left alone to deal with a horrible tragedy and what he learned was that he didn’t deserve. His mother left him and there was no one there to hold him so he became hardened. He began to see himself as not worthy and at fault. He steeled his heart so that no one would ever hurt him like that again.
I get it. I have my own back story. I was hurt and no one protected me. I was manipulated and lied to and injured in a most horrific way. I was surrounded by people who claimed to love me but totally and utterly failed me. I too hardened my heart in order to survive. I escaped into booze and later men. I began walking this earth with this feeling of no worth but with this amazing unrelenting hope that someday, despite my calloused heart, there was a person who could love me back to health.
That didn’t happen. In truth, I almost died by my own hand. It was only staring at death that brought me back into life and living. And I began to shift through the ruble and ash to find out how and where I was warped by the fire. And I learned the most important lesson that I will ever learn - that all of my problems start and end with me and that only divine guidance can help me rebuild.
I wanted that for this love. I wanted him to find what I found. I wanted him to see that there was another way. I failed. I am not sure that I made it look all that attractive. I got hurt by his personal pain and hardened heart. I tried to lean on him when everything in his being said that he couldn’t handle it and that weakness is to be eradicated. I was injured by his coldness and unwillingness to do the real work love requires.
But the most recent firestorm showed me that people are fundamentally different in one very simple yet profound way. We are either wiling to do the work or we are not. No one is willing to do the work all the time but I have learned that people are oriented in one direction or the other. In the face of an ever changing landscape - we either dig in or flee. We either accept our part or blame others. We either get help or find a million reasons why our lives are too busy to get help. We either open our hearts to the continual heartbreak that is love or we recoil and walk away.
Our love story was doomed from the start. I am (through absolutely no merit of my own) a worker. I don’t have a choice lest you think that I am somehow heroic. I am not, it is just that my life depends upon doing the work - even when I don’t want to and I want to stop and rest or quit or whatever. I have to do the inner work. He was a recoiler - a leaver. And I can now honestly say, that there is no way these two people can ever have a satisfying life together. One will always keep working and chasing after the one who runs. The one who runs will always see the other as weak. The one who recoils will always blame the other for every shortcoming they can spot. The one who leaves will always flee because the one who does the work acts as a mirror to all the flee-er cannot love or accept about themselves. The more they are loved the less deserving they feel. Like I said, doomed.
So I stand examining the pile of ash of a love that is no more. I mourn all the dreams we had together and at the same time realize that that is all they were. There was no time in the future where those dreams were actualized. The smoldering embers that ignited passion and love were really the charred remains of past fires that were never extinguished and left some awful scars. I see now that my biggest mistake was believing that my love was some kind of salve for the wounds of another. That was arrogant...
In the end, you can only save yourself. You can drag a whole pack of people along with you when you escape the flames. But in the end, we all must face the fire alone. We have to find something within ourselves worth saving. Sounds easy, right? But it is not. Even someone willing to do the work stands at the fires edge and sees the effort required to rebuild and finds themselves lacking. So what might a person who is too afraid to do the work do? It appears, at least from my vantage point, that they cut their losses and move on. It is all they know to do.
I wish that living through a firestorm granted me the power to change and help another. To be a hero - to be capable of running into the inferno and hauling out my loved one to safety. But heroes are not heroes because of what they do for others - it is what they do for themselves - it is the inner work that makes the difference.
So some firefighters will go home and feel lost and in need of the next trial to make them feel whole again. They are the ones that save others likely because saving themselves is just too terrifying. I want to be the other kind - the kind that rushes in to save the complete stranger for no other reason than that is what needs to be done. I can see now that there is much shifting through debris - much heavy lifting that needs to be done in order to move closer to myself. I can see that I have been sitting in my home waiting for someone to save me. Someone to love me enough to make my life worthwhile when all along I needed to be my own hero. Someone to pull me from the fire and into safety. I do not know how to do that for myself but it appears that I am going to learn.
One last thought in my long winded ramble...while fire has the power to melt, scar and devastate, it also has the power to open and start new life. It all depends on what the fire contacts. If the fire contacts a home or flesh - it devastates. Those things are not fireproof. But if fire touches a pinecone for example - it melts away the hard exterior and releases a seed for new growth. I want to be the pinecone. The fire removes my hard outer exterior and allows me to become a fresh seed for a new life. The seed has everything inside it needs for a fresh start - but it is dependent upon favorable external circumstances too. The seed cannot survive without water, sunlight and air. I am going to make sure that I get those. I can’t wait to see what I grow into...