I set fire to the first copy of my book yesterday.
I stood by the fire pit in the beginning of a first-time ritual. The proof copy was in my hands with its formatting errors and grammar mistakes. It was the very same book that I pulled out of the shipping package with surprise at the weight of it heavy in my hands. I’d never burned a book before. Of course, three months ago I hadn’t written a book either.
The snow and ice was still on the ground. Remnants from the only fire I had burned in the spring-built fire pit earlier in the summer sat within the stone circle. This was a ritual that I was creating for myself. I hadn’t been able to scatter Paul’s or Susan’s ashes and I wanted to scatter the words of some of their stories into the wind.
I didn’t have a eulogy prepared or anything special to say but I felt as though I should say something before I lit the fire. I lit the little tea light I had brought outside and opened the book to find myself starting at the entry I would read out loud. I looked at the words and my laughter rang out into the cold evening when the realization hit that I had selected the entry called “Ashes and Dust.”
I read the entry out loud by the light of that tiny candle, willing my words out into the sky. Asking for the ashes of this book to be my surrogate. I finished the entry and I opened up the book to start setting fire to it.
Earlier in the day, I had gone to my first hypnotherapy appointment to see if I could do anything to curb the grief I was feeling without leaning on pharmaceutical help. If I had learned one thing from my three month leave of absence from work it was that even in the midst of loss and pain, it was still possible to find moments of happiness. I had gone with the intention of seeing if there was a way to smooth the jagged edges of grief and depression.
The session with the therapist was like a cross between a session with a standard psychologist and guided meditation. I found myself on a massage table, eyes closed, and listening to the sound of her voice and stepping through the exercises of the mind. At one point she guided me through an exercise where I approached my grief. I found myself holding it and asking it what it wanted.
“Family is family,” the phrase echoed in my mind. The words were familiar from when Dr. Bowen spoke at my brother’s funeral, yet the meaning hit me even more. The tears started flowing out of the corners of my closed eyes.
I cried and I cradled the grief in my mind like a small animal, petting it gently and letting it know that I wasn’t ignoring it. I was then supposed to ask it what it wanted from me. The answer that came back was “movement.”
The truth in that single word dawned on me. The feelings of behind left behind, forgotten, or stuck on rewind were very real. The world was moving on without Paul and in some ways I couldn’t help but perceive that they were moving on without me. I was stuck, and the jarring action of Susan’s death and bearing witness to her departure from earth sat with me. It was what had created movement in me to travel across the country, and to finally write the book I had been saying I would write for years.
So there I stood in front of the fire of this book, emptying the contents of a bottle of lamp oil to catch the pages on fire. Even if I turned the pages, the paper wanted to revert back to its original tree form and stick together. As the pages burned and turned into a charcoal color that would disintegrate into dust in a single touch, I could still make out the words in print. It made me realize that no matter what happens to the physical, the story remains as long as there’s a soul to tell it.
I realized that a 400 page book takes a while to burn and as I watched the patterns of the fire dancing across the flower shaped fire design, I made the leap to the little grief animal that I had connected with earlier in the day. It was a fire that I had to tend to, or it might rage out of control. It might also go out, leaving the story untold in the universe to reside in me like a lump of coal waiting to be transformed. I tended the fire and watched as every page finally dissolved into little sparks that faded into the grey.
The first proof was to burn, but the second proof with its mistakes was the one to give away. I sent it off to be read with the understanding that it was something that could not be owned. It was the copy that needed to have conversations with people and when they were done reading the story they could write their name in the book and pass it on.
I stirred the ashy remains in a spiral as the last of the sparks went out.
Ashes and dust.
Pass it on.