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Photo by Yousuf El-Jayyousi

Lighting fear on fire

After watching countless videos on how to flick a lighter, I sat on the floor of my bathroom — one of the only rooms in the house without a fire alarm — and held a red lighter in my trembling hand, unsure of what was to come. My mother had warned me against fire in the house, painting me a picture of our burning home caused by a candle carelessly forgotten.

Yet the allure of a burning candle has always enticed me. The way the flame flickered as time passed was hypnotizing, and holding something warm provided comfort in a way I can’t describe. I had no idea if starting a lighter would trigger the fire alarms in my house, but I did it anyway, purely because I wanted to for myself.

After texting my friend three times, telling her, “Starting a lighter is way harder than it should be,” and burning my finger at least five times, I finally held my efforts: a lit candle, smelling of both a snowfall and success.

Now, it takes a couple seconds for me to light a candle, my anxiety gone because of my experiences. My drawer stands tall with the plentiful of candles I buy. It’s been months since I first flicked that lighter in the bathroom, and every time I ignite the lighter now, my mother warns against the burning candle: “This house is made of wood, and wood burns.”

There are times when I remember her words and hesitate to light the candle, or it takes me longer to start the fire. In these times, I curse myself and my unfounded anxiety. I’ve done this before — I know nothing bad happens from the candle, so why do I wait?

Farmers torch their own land for better soil quality, and therefore, for more quality crops to grow. Perhaps it’s the same with people. Not literally, of course, but when I get in moods where I just want to change everything about my life, I wonder if I should just start over and make myself somebody I can be proud of.

I wanted to do this more than ever when a family friend passed away. I’m pretty open about my past suicidal tendencies, and for that, I’m usually comfortable with the idea of death. Now, after watching the surviving family members mourn and listening to my mother recount the cremation of the friend, I look at the flickering flames of the candle and wonder: when my time is up and I’m on my deathbed, will I be happy with what I’ve done?

We spend too much time conforming to what society and our parents want: Graduate high school as a perfect, well-rounded student, go to college, get a well-paid job, get married, have children and then die. Isn’t it tiring to play the role of something not meant for you?

I’m ready to burn the script I’ve been given and write my own.

I understand why my mom is afraid of the flame. You just don’t see life the same after you watch a person burn. Hinduism says we burn bodies to remove the soul’s last attachment to the earth, to let it reincarnate into another being. It is the same principle I want to apply to my life though without burning the body.

I want to let go of my anxiety and my fears and just live. Live life on my own terms. Whether that be burning a candle, backpacking across a continent or protesting, they are my choices to make. I have to take responsibility for them, of course, but what an honor it is to do so. I’ll burn my fears so they can be reborn into action, and perhaps, when I’m looking back on my life, I’ll have no regrets.

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