Who Chooses The Fire? Two Stories

Kindness, love, and hospitality at my table, without favoritism, is my way forward through the fire.

“Once, I went to interview Jean Cocteau. His house was piled high with bibelots, paintings, drawings by famous artists, books, Cocteau kept everything, and felt a deep love for all those things. So anyway, during the interview, I decided to ask him: «if the house caught fire right now, and you could only take one thing with you, what would you choose?»

– And what did Cocteau say? – asked Alvaro Teixeira, who was in charge of the castle, and a great follower of the life of the French artist.
– Cocteau said: «I’d take the fire».

And we sat there in silence, applauding deep down in the most intimate corners of our hearts, the brilliant reply.

(Paulo Coelho : Warrior Of The Light – Vol 2. Story Told by a Brazilian Journalist To Paulo)

I came across two hiker stories that stoped me up, one of which caused me to actually cry. Who chooses fire?


I purchased a wood gasifier hiker stove a few months ago. It uses wood fuel, a few tiny twigs off the ground, and with very few twigs you can cook or roast a meal over its tiny, contained, smokeless fire. The gasification process causes a secondary burn of the wood gas so that it burns like a gas stove once ignited. The kit is light, packing down to the size of a tiny pot. I’ve  already made many pots of tea and noodles while hiking.

I enjoy reading hiking journals and books. Often I read about great adventures waiting to be taken, if only we would get out of our routines. But life is messier than that.

Hiking is indeed an adventure, but all human activity is rooted in a convoluted, connected life. Once in a while you come across stories that reflect this reality. Younger hiking writers are often incapable of weaving this gritty truth into their written tales.

Watched an interesting documentary about hiking the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada). Many people were interviewed and asked to explain why they choose to hike this long distance trail. The usual youthful responses, “To be Free”, “To figure life out, man”, even “I don’t know why”. It takes the old men and women to bring the earthiness of humanity into this idealistic wilderness scene where youth run away to……. where no one really can run away for long.

When an older gentleman was asked why he is hiking the PCT, he talked about the fire.
He explained how his son was killed by a drunk driver several years back, and  now, more recently, his wife of forty years also unexpectedly passed away too. He is alone now.

He described sitting in his house, day after day, months on end, immersed in this home full of things that continuously triggered memories of his two loves, and not coping very well. He was sinking into a dark space when he came to the realization that he needed to do something to heal, to move on, to live. That “something” must involve getting away from a home full of triggered memories, but it also needed to be something physical, he explained. He figured he could hike a little. He confessed that he never set out to hike all 2200 miles of the PCT, only to hike for a while, but he just kept going, and going… and there he was, only a few hundred miles from the end.

I can see myself in him….. I understand him…… He chose the fire.

“When faced with a great loss, be it material, spiritual or psychological, it is no use trying to recover that which is gone…. At the moment of loss, however contradictory it may seem, we are acquiring a large slice of freedom.

… why not use this sudden change and make the most of these days to risk things we always wanted to do, but hadn’t the courage, believing that we should follow a “normal rhythm of life”, in which everything is under control?” (Paulo Coelho)

Loss, as freedom? That sounds heartless, disrespectful even.

At the time I first read the story, Ben Raynolds was in the midst of hiking the 2100 mile Appalachian Trail, before he dies. I copied and saved it.

“They found the tumor at the base of my brain in July 2013…. The walk to the car from his office was perhaps 2 blocks but it felt like a 1000 miles…. I have decided to go out on my own terms. I want some time to get to know me before I go, life has been so hectic and so pointless up until somebody put a time limit on it for me.” ~ Ben Raynolds

Do we really choose the fire?  It finds us.

I could care less when fire consumes my possessions, but when it licks the heals of people I love….. ouch.

Luckily, there is hope to be found, a Great Strength that helps in these incendiary moments.

As a humanitarian, I love and seek to help all people. I serve Muslims, willingly, and gladly. However, in this day and age, we have learned to keep your faith hidden away, and never speak about it but on rare occasions. I  can be dangerous, costly even. Many mistaken assumptions and final judgments are made when you let that cat out of the bag.

I am at the age where I have nothing to loose.

“….. life is an adventure of faith lived one day at a time.  Any aspirations, visions and dreams died a long time ago and I have absolutely no interest in resurrecting them … I have finally figured out that I have nothing to lose by living a life of faith.” (Paul Young)

I can love God, and love my neighbor at the same time. And my Humanitarian service enables me to do that with no religious strings attached. I serve a Muslim population. I can love my Buddhist, Muslim, Catholic, Pentecostal, atheist, agnostic, gay, bi-sexual, and fundamentalist Christian friends.  We disagree.

However, kindness, love, and hospitality at my table, without favoritism, is my way forward through the fire.



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