by guest blogger Renee James, humorist and blogger
Dictionary.com lists 18 definitions for fire as a noun. It lists another 15 for it as a transitive verb (with an object) and another seven as an intransitive verb (without an object). That doesn’t include the additional 14 “verb phrase” or “idiom” uses, and let’s not even touch fiery, the spelling of which makes absolutely no sense to me. Shouldn’t it be “firey?” Wouldn’t it be pronounced the same way and be easier to remember?
This is a far cry from the word with the most definitions, according to the OED and Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition. (That would be set, with 464 definitions.) But learning about the depth and breadth of the word fire caused me to add to Renee’s Rules of Life. Along with “Make fewer rules,” “Nothing is easy,” “Simple is better,” and “Perspective is underrated,” you’ll now find “Context counts for a lot.” In fact, when it comes to fire, maybe context counts for everything.
Musicians have done more than their share with the word. Off the top of my head, “Keep a fire burning in your eye,” “I’m on fire,” “I’ve seen fire, and I’ve seen rain,” and “Light my fire” come to mind. I think we were all quite a bit younger the first time we heard these songs, but even then we knew that fire, in these memorable lyrics, equals passion.
Fire definitely has staying power. Let’s not forget that despite the existence of central heating, many people covet and enjoy their home’s fireplace. There’s also a reason people gather around a fire pit in a yard, or around a campfire, or an enormous bonfire. And even with myriad fixtures and bulbs available, we light candles to help create a mood. (Personally, I have long believed that any retailer who illuminated its women’s dressing rooms by candlelight every spring would sell 1,000 percent more bathing suits than its closest competitor, but so far not one has taken me up on that.) Fire is alluring. It’s captivating. It’s primal. Name something else people have been drawn to for something like 400,000 years.
And speaking of being drawn to something for more than 400,000 years, let’s get back to that concept of fire = passion. Once again, context matters, right? A very wise man I know once compared the passion between a happy and faithful married couple to a fire that burns brightly, steadily, and securely within a well-used fireplace. It gets stoked on a regular basis, and the embers never seem to die out. And sure, a similar kind of passion can be found elsewhere if one of the partners has an affair or even a one-night stand. But, continuing the analogy, this time it’s raging outside the safe confines of the fireplace. It’s more reckless, more dangerous, and more likely to damage anything surrounding it.
Hey, it’s one perspective. You agree with it or you don’t.
But here’s the thing (and there’s always a thing with me, right?): I don’t want to take anything away from white-hot passion of a roaring fire, but it seems to me that the embers that settle along the grate are a very, very close second to the blaze itself. We all love those flames and the sparks they give off. They’re tantalizing; mesmerizing. But what about the embers they leave behind? The slow burn…the flickers…the small but comforting bit of warmth they throw off. They don’t get any headlines or poetic tributes, but they deserve them.
Do you cherish the embers in your life? I humbly suggest you go ahead and count on their quiet, smoldering heat when the world can feel so very cold. For me, the embers are there at those times I want to crack in two; when I want to escape life by either diving out a window and under the covers. Or when I feel a loss in my life that can never be made whole. When just one more thing that goes badly will put me over the edge. But then it doesn’t…because those embers just won’t die out. They may dim from time to time, but they just need a little love and they’re back. Give them a little shake; a tiny stir. They don’t seem to go dark.
Compared to their loud-mouthed flaming siblings, embers are sadly underappreciated. Sure, they may not exactly leave you breathless (like fire can, by the way) but there’s something quietly spectacular about such a soft glow.
Renee A. James works at Rodale Inc. and wrote an award-winning op-ed column for The Morning Call, the Allentown, Pennsylvania, newspaper, for almost 10 years. Her essays were included in the humor anthology, 101 Damnations: A Humorists’ Tour of Personal Hells (Thomas Dunne Books, 2002), and are also found online at Jewish World Review and The Daily Caller. She invites you to Like her Facebook page, where she celebrates—and broods about—life on a regular basis, mostly as a voice in the crowd that shouts, “Really? You’re kidding me, right?” (or wants to, anyway), and she welcomes your suggestions, comments, and feedback to the mix.