The World on Fire

I wrote this the other day and figured it was too mentally askew to be worth posting. I was in a bad place–stressed by finals, consumed by philosophy–and strange things happen in dark corners on bright days, you know? So I’ve been thinking about it anyways, and since I’ve had some more time to consider it, to reflect on it, I’ve found there’s actually some merit in it after all.

So with no further ado, I present to you “Dancing Fire”:

Sometimes I imagine the world on fire. It’d be a beautiful sight, this conflagration, like holiday lights: Every linear surface should carry a flame. And wouldn’t that be warm? All this light could be blinding.

I caught myself thinking about chemistry as I watched the candles last night. What causes the flame to dance? What causes it to sway in the wind and swell when I cup my hands around it? What math is at work?

The application of such equations moves past thermodynamics down to chemical combustion. That’s chemistry. I tried to stop wondering (fluid mechanics has no known solution after all) but the intrigue stayed alight.

I didn’t know what to post today so I figured I’d post whatever came to mind. While I was walking up the road with my punk rock blaring in my ears, I recalled that one time I told myself: if I can still hear the world, my iPod isn’t loud enough.

Except I think I actually said: if I can still hear myself thinking, my music isn’t loud enough. But now my iPod is my music and since everything is relative and reality is a construct of the mind, it all means the same thing anyways.

Fire isn’t all I imagine. The sky should drop like skipped stones across the surface of the earth. Buses should overturn while they turn and what would it mean if their moment of inertia were shaped instead like a sphere.

That only lasted a moment before I realized this is all but a moment and each second is the surface integral of the electrical pulses across our grey matter. Does it matter? There is no black or white. Isn’t everything grey in the end anyways?

Sometimes I feel like Nietzsche. A nihilist. Nothingness. Other times I feel like Plato. Unable to speak on my own so I create my own Socrates to speak through. Or Aristophanes. He did have a crude sense of humor. And what of those humors, didn’t the Greeks say there were four? Bleed ’em out like leeches. Might as well.

I’ve never felt like Augustine.

I’m Aristotle during a math test. Locke after a long day’s work. Hobbes carries my depression on the cruelty of our perpetual state of survival, this thing perhaps he called nature (others called it war). Rousseau was a romantic. So am I. But I did poorly on that quiz. “Don’t worry,” our professor said, “he’s a hard one to understand.” I paced around my bedroom reading his words aloud, feeling like I should take them to the streets, give the people a new god, a new bible. Another French revolution in the middle of campus.

When I fight for equality I feel like Mill. I’m making an argument against society and even our side is turned against itself. I sometimes say I want to be the gay MLK, but who’d be my Malcolm X? You can only win one extreme when it seems like the mean of another. I guess that makes me more like Machiavelli than I’d like to admit.

The world, I think, would look better bathed in flames.

I promised I’d post every day during Chanukah but I think I’ve studied too much to think straight. But sideways thinking is still thinking so I guess my music isn’t loud enough.

Guess it’s time to light another candle.

* * *

There’s a story of creation I quite admire that says God withdrew from himself to create space for the world to exist (if you read my story The Time Before Time, you may recognize it’s a theme I’ve incorporated into my own mythology). Then, to create the world, God took a fraction of himself and placed it in a vessel inside the world–and since there are just as many integers as there are natural numbers, it’s obvious to see a fraction of infinity is itself still infinite.

So infinite that the vessel couldn’t hold it. And it broke.

This, I believe, was the Big Bang of scientific fame–a molten eruption of matter over anti-matter in which, seconds later, the world had cooled to its near-present state. However, in its expansion, this burning flame was blown out–and all that remains are the scattered embers now struggling to stay alight.

There is Godness in everything. God is both interior and exterior–immanent and transcendent. This is the alchemical meaning of above and below, a broken theism constructed in a broken mind (for by this train of thought, everything is broken by nature). But by nature, through virtue (cue the harp struck by Aristotle–the Golden Mean is indeed the path to glory, and sing of Plato’s hymns, for is not our quest, as Socrates says, to leave the cave and lead the revolution from within it?), through the commandments–the mitzvot–God has given us, we can prod these ashes, and like the phoenix, rekindle our flames and come to life again.

Our purpose in this life and all the rest is to foster this flame inside ourselves and help to foster this same flame inside of everyone else. By igniting ourselves, by uplifting ourselves, by sharing in this pleasure with another, and another then, we are uplifting these broken pieces of God, bringing them closer to the whole from which we all were born, will all return to, and by this process, repairing the world–tikkun olam.

Whenever I get the chance to light candles and pray over them, whether it’s on Shabbat or on Chanukah, I like to remember this story and remember how inside all of us and everything is a bit of infinity that’s waiting to burn brighter than the sun–for what is the sun, finite, in comparison to the infinite within us? I want to change the world. I want to start a revolution. I was spread the flames and birth a forest fire to the end of days.

I want to see the world on fire.

I want to see it burn in the holy light struggling to stay alight.

This Chanukah I’ve had to light my candles alone. Yesterday I sat outside and used seven matches just to get the candles lit. They stayed that way not even a moment before the wind blew them out. I didn’t feel like fighting again to keep them all alight, and with so many now, my hands could no longer shield them from the wind anyways. I got to savor them for a moment before I was plunged into darkness.

Bringing my chanukiah into my room, my roommate told me I really could light them inside without setting off the fire alarm, so I placed it on the stove, turned on the fan, and lit another match. The flames took to the wicks so easily it was easier than exhaling. The flames stood still at long last, no longer fighting to overcome what was trying desperately to end them. And yet, here inside, though still and silent, they weren’t as bright.

Something about the flames dancing in the wind had made them brighter, bigger, more robust–they had lasted less admirably so and were quick to fade, but they still burned brighter in the cold, night air. It made me wonder if what we’re doing is really all that important–if by burning ourselves up, we’re not only burning brighter, but being blown out sooner. Six candles suddenly became an image of both death and life held in the balance of the webs within our souls, and should they all blow out together, no more sparks will be able to light us again until a hand from outside the system swoops down in to save us.

Or maybe by burning brighter we’re just raising ourselves up to that ideal, that moment in which we all come together and become one, that moment in which, at last, the world will rest on fire.


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