I shouldn’t like to watch things burn so much. Think about it: I’m taking pleasure in the disintegration of something, the dissolution of some object into nothing but gray ash that floats up into the atmosphere or settles hopelessly beneath my feet. Last night I sat by a beautiful campfire in my neighbor’s backyard. The children, otherwise distracted, came around the fire just to watch things burn.
I could have sat there for hours. Transfixed, I had to wonder: why do I love to watch things burn? Why do most people?
Living with flair means asking the sort of question to get beneath my experience. So I stared at the fire. My children stared, hypnotized. I even recalled my entire history with campfires and what things I used to throw in. Magazines burned with prettier colors. Marshmallows exploded and elongated into these snake-like black creatures.
My children, too, enjoyed watching marshmallows burn more than eating them.
I finally thought of this: We really don’t expect things to fall apart. We’re used to permanence. I see things around me as intact, stable, and predictable. A stick is a stick. Newspaper is newspaper. Marshmallows are marshmallows.
But put them in fire, and all of a sudden, the true constitution appears. These stable objects transform into mere ash, residue, that looks all alike no matter what unique appearance it had to begin with. It’s just a chemical reaction, completely understandable, and yet it produces such wonder, such peace even, as I watch the burn.
Outside of the boundaries of the campfire, though, that fire has such destructive power that it could take down my whole city.
It terrifies me, that power. And yet, sitting around a campfire, I get to observe that power from a position of safety. 18th century philosophers would say this is a sublime experience; it’s a simultaneous fear and attraction. And when I encounter a power stronger than myself, even in a little backyard campfire, I’m humbled and put in my place. I see into the reality of my world–the black ash underneath it all.
Fire makes me think of the fragility of things (my own fragile self). Living with flair means appreciating a campfire for more than just the s’mores it makes. It means understanding the fear and power that accompanies all truly beautiful things.