Once a month, a family in santa monica hosts a fire gathering in their backyard. There is a potluck, and cocoa, and then everyone settles around the fire while the firekeeper gives his gifts: copal for welcome. tobacco for wisdom. wood for transformation. cacao for passion and joy. Then, one by one, we give the same gifts, circling the fire in silence. The change is palpable. Everyone seems to settle in, the superficial is skimmed away, and the sharing that follows comes from someplace deeper than the interaction I am used to.
Tonight I was able, for the first time in nearly a year, to sit by the fire and hear the stories people tell when they are not afraid.
'Sometimes', quoted one, 'it is urgent that we do nothing.'
'The only thing that annoys me,' said another, 'is when someone pretends to be happy even when they are angry and sad. Sure, everything happens for a reason, but sometimes life is f*cked up and we need to acknowledge that before we skip on to 'oh but everything will come out right in the end.''
Another shared her sense of overwhelming loss from a recent miscarriage.
Others shared struggles with family, the loss of loved ones, successes and new jobs and setbacks. A pair of young lovers that I'd been slightly envious of all evening revealed that they were soon to be separated, with an entire continent between them.
These were people I had made conversation with over dinner, some people I'd met perhaps twice before, some who were strangers. I'd looked at their clothes and their cars and their partners and felt attraction, or insecurity, or jealousy, or dislike. But now I was hearing what felt like new facets of my own story. These were my family hurting and struggling and learning.
Anainn slept in my arms. Xir sat listening for a long time, whispering once in my ear we are having so much fun, aren't we? and then taking his beloved pillow pet back into the house to sleep on the couch.
Friends stepped forward to drive us home, sparing us the long slog back to the bus station, the long cold wait for the bus. I thought for a long time, riding home, about why it is so rare and so difficult to interact like this on a regular basis. There is too much at stake, somehow; it would grow exhausting to be honest on this scale with everyone I encounter. But isn't that sad?
Having made peace with the scale and speed of the challenges life has seen fit to bequeath me, I took the time post-fire for a long, self-indulgent cry. As my new friend said, sometimes we need to acknowledge the hard stuff. It was a nice complement for the gratitude I was feeling yesterday...and somehow, does not seem to diminish it.
And you know, I'm grateful for the hard stuff, too. Looking at all of those faces around the fire, the most beautiful were the ones that had history in them.