Just last week, very dear friends of mine had a fire. An outbuilding on their ranch, close to the house, was completely destroyed in minutes. The fire burned furiously hot and loud as chemicals, ammunition, equipment, tools, electrical gear ignited and exploded. But the winds were in their favor blowing the fire away from the house, the propane tanks, and the vehicles. The cattle and new calves were in the pastures, the horses bolted at the first sounds and the sight of flames. The dog sounded the alert. No one was injured, there were no lives lost.
Those are the facts. But an event of this magnitude stirs one to the soul. It could have been much worse; people or animals could have died, their home could have been destroyed or wildfire could have started and raged through dry prairie grass. Even though none of that happened, as the hours and days go by, thoughts tumble over one another. It is inevitable to want to place blame. To ask why this happened to me, now. To wring your hands in anguish about what could have been done – or avoided – to be prepared for this or to prevent it. And memories flood the senses. Memories of those who came before to build this ranch, to work this land, to endure floods and fires and blizzards, to see new life flourish and then perish. With memories comes the feeling that somehow you have failed and betrayed those ancestors and have not been a faithful steward of their legacy. A heavy burden is triggered by a singular event.
In less than a week my friends are pulling back from the immediate pain and asking the more difficult questions. The immediate and very personal feelings of disbelief, anger, guilt, and sadness are still very real and very acceptable and almost constantly present. There is much to sort out. And simultaneously they are asking, 'what is this for?' In the bigger scheme of things, what role does this fire play, what does it mean, what has it come to teach us. Fire is always a cleansing and purifying element. It comes to the prairie and the forest before new growth. Is it more than this? My friends are in their seventies and have begun the process of consciously choosing what’s important to keep and what to let go of. Perhaps the fire helped in its impersonal and indiscriminate way of choosing. Perhaps my friends – and each one of us – must choose and will continue to choose what is of value and what is not. Spiritual texts and leaders of all persuasions, from the Buddha to the Tao to Sufis to Jesus and Christian mystics, teach us detachment. Our small, personal self and all that we imbue with meaning, must be relinquished so that our larger God-like, Buddha-like essence may flourish. We may walk this path of attachment for a lifetime. Or we may choose to release our belongings and finally release ourselves into our true identity. At any time. Perhaps in a burst of flame.