I’ve watched a lot of things burn in my short 21 years of living on this planet.
After the flame has passed, every plant, tree, log and stick looks like a skeleton. And it’s funny—for all the years of creation that went into growing those things, if you walk up to an ash-covered pine tree, you can run your fingers through its burnt needles and they immediately dissipate.
The night we did this burnout (in the picture above), I saw a deer running out of three flame fronts that were converging. I saw about ten birds of prey floating on the drift of the smoke and vortices that were mixing inside all the hot action. I thought about them and the concept of survival. I thought about all the things that were dying inside the acreage we had burned—all the little things. The sage. The grass and their hoppers. The spiders. The roots that flow like circuitry through the ground.
All these things—these lives—that died, they were all innocent.
For some odd, psychological reason, whenever something or someone dies, something I enjoy goes away, or something or someone disappoints me, I automatically envision it burning violently in a wrath of copper-colored flame.
On my last days off, I wanted to take my lover and best friend to my sacred space, the red gate. For years, I have walked up to this red cow gate and prayed to whatever God, cried, written poems, ate burritos, drank coffee, or just sat in utter thoughtlessness. This is what it looks like:
Nothing special, really. Just an outcropping in the middle of a sage flat.
But in all its plainness, the red gate is my temple.
When we walked up to the outcropping, I immediately broke into tears because the gate was gone. All the posts had been ripped out of the ground and taken away. I had an influx of confusing emotions. I felt like my temple had been destroyed. That place was sacred to me. It was my citadel—the place where I could go and watch my people from above.
I immediately resorted to the violent image of the gate burning down, flames licking the open blue sky that used to separate the ground and the birds circling above.
And then I was on fire.
But Brandon, in all his enlightened love and compassion, held my face and told me that it was okay, because the gate was just a thing. I could hate the people that tore it out, or I could love them, but regardless of my decision, the space was still there. The memory, the ceremony, the time was still there. The tears of the Buddha and the blood of Christ was still there, seeping into the dust.
For a single moment, I could feel all the pain of the crucifixion or starvation—all the suffering and empathy and compassion flooding—no, cavitating—my heart. And now my tears were seeping in, back to the earth that I had so enjoyed. I had suffered over the gate’s disappearance, but the sacred place was still there. We were there together. The intention was what was important. The attachment was not important.
The gate needed to go so that I could learn how to find peace in myself. I learned an important lesson about attachment and destruction–and love–that day.
And watching entire ecosystems burn this summer reiterated that important lesson to me. Love things and people, but do not get attached to them because things do not last forever. You have to find peace in your own mind, and only then can you be constantly at peace with yourself and the world.
Respect life: your own and the lives of others. Be kind to yourself and reach out to those in need. Let others ride on the energy you exude, like the birds on the edge of a flame front.
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Ed: Catherine Monkman