On Love and Campfires

For Vince

They say that when you fall in love, you’ll feel butterflies. They say your heart will thump so hard it’ll feel fit to beat right out of your chest, that your soul will feel lit up from within by the world’s most wonderful fireworks display. They say that when you find the person who makes you feel these things, you’ve found “the one.”

“They” say a lot of things.

Have you ever started a campfire? You gather sticks, twigs, newspaper, some firestarters. You throw a match in under the logs, fan it, and soon — fwoomph — the whole thing catches. The fire burns big and bright and beautiful, all hissing steam and orange flames reaching up towards the sky. A new fire is at its showiest… and most useless. You cannot cook on this fire, or toast marshmallows on it, or sit and gaze at its too-bright light. A new fire looks impressive and will seem to fill the air with heat, but that’s only because it is filling a void where there was no fire before. This is the fire of butterflies, of heartbeats, of fireworks.

If you tend your fire well, you’ll get the second fire — the one that exists after the brightest burn, after the easy kindling is spent. The second fire may not be as showy, but it’s hotter, sturdier. This fire has confidence. It has survived the early evening and burns with purpose. Now is the time for cast iron pots bubbling hot with stew, for marshmallows toasting brown amid the coals. The second fire is the one that warms your bones as the sun disappears over the horizon. It is the fire of the hearthstone, of vows and promises.

Many fires end here, as do many loves. This is as far as they get before being snuffed out or falling victims to carelessness. If you look after it, though, you’ll reach the best fire: the third fire.

The third fire burns the quietest, too busy creating an aura of radiant heat to worry itself with flashy, flickering flames. It glows low and red, a warm cradle against the sharp cold of the dark. This is the fire you gaze at long into the night, as the animals bed down and the stars come out to play. You must feed this fire too, of course — nothing can burn forever on sheer force of will. With care, this is the fire you sit around in companionable silence, drink in hand. It is the fire you tell stories by, as your laughter drifts up through the trees, startling birds awake. This is the fire of anniversaries, of celebrating births together and grieving deaths together, or building up a long, joint life brick by brick by brick.

Anyone can start a fire and give you butterflies, but when you’ve found someone to build a fire that lasts until dawn…

…that’s when you’ve found the one.

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