Fire comforts, until it scorches and kills
The Resale Evangelista
CHAPEL HILL, NC:
The last log of the evening ignites in the wood stove and I settle into the couch—cats on one side of me, dog on the other—to enjoy the simple luxury of watching flames.
My biggest aggravation at the moment is that Felix, my black cat companion, keeps nudging my hands from the keyboard, insisting on attention. At last, he lolls against my thigh, a miniature jaguar at rest. The strains of a cello concerto dance with the song of the blustery wind that makes a fire necessary. A glass of bourbon adds a complementary smokey note to the night’s medley of warmth.
That log, though, disturbs me. It’s holding its shape as it burns, flames licking and quivering up the sides from a thick bed of embers. Finally, the shell of the log collapses with a small display of sparks.
The flames make me think of the Jordanian pilot not only killed recently by Islamic terrorists, but subjected to immolation—surely the most horrendous of deaths. I also think about Kayla Mueller, the young American woman held hostage by ISIS for 17 months, who died—one way or another—in the conflagration that is consuming so much of the world outside my circle of immediate experience.
Except now the conflagration isn’t outside my immediate circle. Last week in Chapel Hill, three young Muslims were gunned down in their apartment by a neighbor, ostensibly over a long-running parking dispute. The shooter’s wife insists he isn’t a bigot, in fact the opposite, since he reportedly disdained the religiously observant of any type. Does it really matter whether a hate crime can be legally proved? The crime was certainly hateful.
My son Max is a year or two older than the slain college students. He’s in the Army now, itching to be deployed (I swear, it’s testosterone poisoning). As a journalist, I should look up the statistics about how few families are connected to someone in the military, thus explaining why Americans seem detached from what’s happening in distant, disintegrating parts of the world. As a mother, I don’t really care about statistics—I just don’t want my son sent to fight in an endless war where the enemy is unidentifiable, insidious and seemingly intent on ever-more brutal displays of violence.
In the meantime, I fret about my propensity toward profligate spending. Admission here, readers: I bought three African masks, a Pakistani rug and a Chinese stacking box today at a local auction. The irony doesn’t escape me that these items originated in some of the very regions where my “struggle” to simplify would be incomprehensible, or maybe just ludicrous. In fact, the things I purchased for their beauty and decorative value were once the implements of daily life in those parts of the world where life is still so often difficult.
And I’m enjoying them, though academic research has verified that the purchase of things provides less satisfaction than the pursuit of experiences. (I have an explanation—okay, a rationalization—to offer: My enjoyment is from the hunting-and-gathering experience of finding a bargain, not the acquisition of, say, an African mask or an inexpensive Oriental rug). The fact I have the leisure to ponder—some would say navel-gaze—the differences between a simple life, a basic life and a life of deprivation is a sign I’m living either a life of luxury or one that’s quite simply frivolous.
In the meantime, as I muse, whole societies are ravaged by flames, metaphorical as well as literal. And I’m afraid there are as many invisible, insidious and unacknowledged hot spots in the United States; the logs are burning hollow here, too. I think it was Abraham Lincoln who said the U.S. will never be defeated from the outside, only from the inside. Doesn’t that sound eerily like what happens to a log as it burns?
Dot’s curled in her dog bed, absorbing the heat. Felix is pacing the back of the couch, mewling for snacks. The logs have collapsed into a bed of incandescent coals.