The one advantage of playing with fire, Lady Caroline, is that one never gets even singed. It is the people who don’t know how to play with it who get burned up.”
― Oscar Wilde, A Woman of No Importance
I live surrounded by forests that I love. The majesty of the ancient trees, their perfume, the song of the birds and other creatures that make their homes in their branches, the way snow sparkles on their boughs in winter. I love the forest.
I know that fire is the greatest danger to the forest that I love, fire puts it at risk.
But, I love a good fire, the smell, the warmth, the sound of the crackling logs, the way the sparks fly up into the dark. The way people gather around it.
I’m greedy, I guess. I want them both. The forest and the fire.
I know I have to respect the one, to have the other.
That’s why there is a a circle of stones around the fire pit in my front yard, to keep the fire contained so it doesn’t spread out of control.
That’s why I always check to make sure that the fire danger isn’t high before I light a fire. If the conditions aren’t right, if one small spark could start an inferno, I wait for another day when the conditions are safer.
When children are around, I am extra vigilant, so much so that I can’t really let go and enjoy the fire in an uninhibited fashion, I’m too busy making sure they are safe, not too close, not too bold. I know that fire leaves scars that never ever completely go away.
I always make sure there is a bucket of water close by in case the fire starts to get out of hand and to douse the fire when it’s time to put the fire out.
Even when I think the fire is completely out, I throw more water on it, maybe even some dirt to smother any embers that could flare back to life.
I have a healthy respect for fire, in fact, I would call it a healthy fear. Respecting it, even fearing it to a degree, doesn’t keep me from enjoying it, instead it allows me the privilege of enjoying it.
I know I don’t need to explain the similarities between drinking and fire. I know we all get it. But so many times we drink without taking any precautions. We ignore the risks and drink more and more, relying that, once again, we’ll escape the consequences. But we don’t, nor do the others that get too close to us. We may not see the scars, but we know they’re there. Don’t we?
Does that mean we never have another drink? Not necessarily. Not if we have a healthy respect, even fear of drinking. Not if we put up barriers so it doesn’t spread out of control. Not if we check to make sure conditions are safe and, if they’re not, wait for another day. Not if we make sure that others remain safe, even if it means we cannot enjoy ourselves fully. Not if we are vigilant enough to douse the fire at the first sign it is getting out of hand and make sure that it stays doused.
Sounds like a lot of work, doesn’t it? It is. But, if we are not willing to or cannot do these things, do we deserve the privilege of drinking?
Because just like fire, drinking can destroy everything we love. It can wipe everything out in one fell swoop, or burn down just a tree or two at a time until we look up one day and realize that there is no more perfume or birdsong or majesty. Just a singed landscape as far as we can see.