When We Were Children

Written August 6, 2008

Somewhere in a place where my mind was not cluttered with the details of a responsible life or dreams of ambition, somewhere (didn’t Einstein say that time doesn’t exist?) the lights had gone out. The electricity had been cut off – this had happened very frequently in my childhood, it happened nearly every few weeks and the president during that time would be remembered for that by our generation – and our part of the city was exposed to the watching sky. When the lights are off, the sky turns into a malevolent purplce, like the beginning of a bruise. It was only then we ever noticed.

But we were children then. In blackouts the candles were brought out and lit. We loved the dark pockets, these new places our overly-familiar house revealed. And we loved the dancing flame, not for its beauty or mystery, but the danger it was supposed to be. Where did the heat come from? How could the flame keep on burning? No one cared as long as the flame was there to burn our fingertips.

It was a test of courage masquerading as skill. If you weaved your finger a certain way through the center of the flame, you would feel no heat. You would be unsinged. Some who were legendary enough could put out the flame for half a second before it returned again.

There was trepidation, watchfulness, and the bravado of children. I remembered putting my finger through the flame more than once and truly feeling no pain, though I never put out the flame.

I seem to have lost that ability. Now my finger is always too close to the tip of the flame or to its curve. Now I always feel the heat skimming through the ridges of my fingertips.

Are adult fingers more sensitive to heat? Are children’s fingers coated with a substance that resists fire for half a second? Without the watchful eyes of peers, there is no glory or humiliation. There is only the objective situation. You are unsinged? Well and good, use your magnificent hand to file your tax return. You are singed? Then use your other hand to fill out the form. And because you want to use your better hand, you refrain from such exercises again. There is no time for displays of courage. The need for that had passed once your peers had accepted you to a certain degree.

The test of skill had always been a test of courage. Now the flames are different. The dark pockets are caverns of uncertainty not worth exploring. The beauty and mystery of the flame are overshadowed by the paralyzing danger. There is immolation in our sight, and by avoiding it we burn.

But there in the centre is still the heart of the flame. It is brief, as brief as our lives are, and it will be a brief glory that will pass before our eyes in its radiant possibility.

Where is your courage?

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