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Giving Yourself Away

“We think the fire eats the wood. We are wrong. The wood reaches out to the flame. The fire licks at what the wood harbors, and the wood gives itself away to that intimacy, the manner in which we and the world meet each new day. Harm and boon in the meetings…” – Jack Gilbert, Harm And Boon In The Meetings

I’ve had a book of poetry by Jack Gilbert for a couple of years now, but never really felt the pull of the pages to immerse myself in it until now. He’s grieving in this poem, which is more apparent as it progresses beyond my quote, but I’m drawn to the analogy of wood reaching out to the flame. All relationships are this dance between giving yourself away and in consuming the other half of the relationship as they give themselves away. It’s this concept of what you and your partner bring to the relationship today, tomorrow and the next day. Some days you give well more than your 50%, sometimes you give a lot less, but the sum of the two gets you closer to 100%. Balance. Yin and Yang. Order and Chaos in a perfect unity.

The damage happens when one partner is always being consumed while the other burns. We’ve all been on both sides of that, whether in a friendship, a job or a marriage. Those relationships either end when one half burns out of the other jumps to another fuel source. I’m no relationship coach, but I’m approaching 25 years of marriage of playing both the fire and the wood. That gives me some level of experience in the subject, if never truly expertise. There seems to be plenty of fuel left to keep our fire burning for whatever time we’re given, and it comes back to the lyrics of the song that started it all for us, pointing to this concept of the dance between fire and the wood:

“Now everyone dreams of a love lasting and true
But you and I know what this world can do
So let’s make our steps clear that the other may see
And I’ll wait for you
If I should fall behind
Wait for me”
– Bruce Springsteen, If I Should Fall Behind

Maybe this should have been a Valentine’s Day post, but the reality is that the real work of relationships starts after the honeymoon, after the flowers and chocolates of Valentine’s Day, after the fire’s been burning for awhile. That’s when you know if you’re relationship is more than just tinder. The fire licks at what the wood harbors, and the wood gives itself away to that intimacy. I keep coming back to this line, and recognizing myself and a lifetime of relationships in the words. We all offer ourselves to the world, and sometimes we’re burned badly. A fire does similar damage to a forest, but the forest often comes back stronger. A relationship is resilient when both sides recognize themselves in the fire and the wood – consumption and fuel – and each strives for balance in what they bring to it.

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