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  • Kerry D. Krauss

Smoke of a Distant Fire

A great line from a great song by the Sanford-Townsend Band…don’t look them up on the Internet. The song peaked at #9 and lives on as one of the top 100 one hit wonders of the 70’s. OK…take three minutes and thirty-three seconds to listen. It has nothing to do with this post, except keeping the Sanford-Townsend Band relevant for one more day…and it is a pretty groovy song about getting cheated on.

The smoke from distant fire(s) reached Wisconsin and much farther east. The sky today had a late July haze, even though the air was cool and dry. On my walk today I recognized the sad, muted hue of a sun that should have been spectacularly bright in the cloudless sky.

The use and control of fire highlights the evolution to pre-pre-pre-hominoids to modern day human beings. Archeological evidence suggests the almost-human use of fire began 1,000,000 years ago. Era after era, they refined their processes, using fire to sharpen tools, bake clay, and eventually, cook food. The use and control of fire delineates us from our more animal-like cousins.

As the control of fire became more widespread, an important responsibility developed in these communities. The role of the ‘firekeeper’ evolved over time, but the basic responsibility of the firekeeper was to keep the fire, to tend the flame, to ensure that the fire never totally went out OR kept the glowing embers glowing. The survival of the community depended upon this one indispensable role.

Notice, it was not the responsibility of one to save one. It was the responsibility of one to save everyone else. It seems those pre-pre-pre-hominoids had something we don’t. We prize individuality more than community. We are each queens and kings of our own kingdoms. We owe loyalty and allegiance to no one. Everyone save yourselves.

I wonder if it would help us to (please Lord, forgive me) rekindle the notion of the firekeeper. We could find a largely symbolic object…a stone, a key, a Zippo. Or literally light a fire in the center of town. It would be a sign of responsibility—not honor, not privilege—responsibility. The firekeeper would bear the responsibility for the whole community…for one day. And then the burden of the firekeeper would fall on someone else…for one day. And then another, and another.

By this we may learn how important we are to each other. By this we may learn that we cannot do it alone. By this we may regard our mutual survival as greater than our personal survival.

The smoke will linger here for days—just as it lingers and chokes those in the west. I worry our helplessness against raging firestorms (both literal and metaphorical) will lead us deeper into apathy, carelessness, and arrogance. And in the process, degenerate us into something less benevolent, something less gentle, something less human.

I love you.

I need you.

I hope for you.

Please be safe.

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