The Heart of the Fire

Updated: Oct 23, 2021

I have this friend, Graham, whom I met in college and who I keep up with mainly through social media exploits. Graham is some kind of a wonderful mix of Oscar Wilde, Truman Capote, and a German film star from the 30s. He introduced me to ammonia cokes and the beauty of Victrola recordings; he helped rekindle my love for black and white photography, and, by example, he has given me a nostalgic appreciation of eras long ago passed. As if all that wasn’t enough, he also has a lovely way of capturing life’s bittersweet bits in a way that really resound with me (unbeknownst to him, I’ve been writing a blog post based on the concept behind his former blog’s name, Displaced Heimat., for about 3 years now…).

Yesterday was no different, when he alerted me to this quote, unprovoked, without really know how much this truly resonates with me right now:

“Above all, in my anger, I was sad. Isn’t that always the way, that at the heart of the fire is a frozen kernel of sorrow that the fire is trying–valiantly, fruitlessly–to eradicate.” –Claire Messud, The Woman Upstairs

I like to think that things are interconnected–that we are all woven together in a way that helps each other by loving them, by helping them learn life lessons, by ensuring their growth in some way. And a lot of times we don’t know how we are connected, or what role we might ultimately play in a person’s life. People wax philosophical all the time about how things happen for a reason and you never really know the true importance to anyone in your life and everyone you come in contact with has a purpose, blah blah. Well, even though Graham and I have not seen each other in the flesh in over a decade, even though we might not talk on the regular, I think this latest quote sharing has helped to reaffirm how dear of a friend he is, and how grateful I am for the ways he’s still able to help me grow.

I have been thinking about this quote all night, and how true it is for me–the fire of anger simply entombing a core of ice-cold sadness–a sadness not brought on by just one thing, but many–many “failures,” many disappointments, many longings, and fears. And for a long time, I’ve used that fire as my fuel to get ahead, to better myself. In the hopes of “proving myself” to whatever thing burned me inside. And in many ways, this mindset has seemed to work so far.

But I’ve come to realize that perpetuating those feelings instead of dealing with them, moving on, and bettering myself for the sake of myself and nothing else is not really helping me. Sure, it’ll allow me to obtain temporary satisfaction, but if what’s really motivating me is proving somebody else wrong, then how am I truly living for me?

I don’t want my success or my happiness to simply be about making someone else feel bad in some way–what’s the point? I am the one putting in the hard work for myself, shouldn’t I be able to fully benefit from it? Why let any of my personal motivation or effort be wasted on people or things not worth my time?


I also want to get better at forgiveness–not in the sense that I want to let unnecessary, toxic people/things back in my life, but that I can be able to accept these people/things, and how they affected me, and then just move on from it. I don’t want to dwell in them; I want to emotionally move away from there forever.

I’ve been reading a lot of articles, blogs, and other writings on the subject of letting go/moving on/forgiving/living for yourself, and I have to say, most recently I’ve found the most success/comfort from the site ZenHabits. I don’t know exactly how I stumbled across it–I think I might have Googled, “letting go,” and it popped up. It’s strange–I’m not one who’s usually good at being able to “follow” a blog or site–I just get distracted easily and no writer has really managed to hold my attention for too long. But since finding this site, it has become my go-to anytime I’m feeling down or out of sorts, unable to get myself to stop dwelling. The writing is accessible and thoughtful, without feeling too preachy. I end up feeling more relaxed and “set straight” after reading a post, and it helps focus on a particular area of improvement I need to think more about.


Beyond that, it has a great archive set up where you can basically browse around and look for a blog/topic that speaks to you–just about every time I’ve gone on there because I was struggling with a particular feeling/emotion, I was able to find something in the archives that spoke to that particular issue. If anyone’s in a place right now where they need that kind of encouragement, I highly suggest it.


So right now, that’s been the focus with me–getting to the root of what I’m feeling, and trying to handle it in healthier ways. I think I’ve been able to extinguish the fire of the anger I’ve been feeling, and now I’m working on melting away the sadness. This is harder to do in some ways, especially when there are so many components that need to be dealt with.


But just by giving myself permission to actually feel the sadness–but not dwell in it–I’m able to understand it better, and have been able to cope with it more. I recognize that this will not be a “quick” or “easy” fix though–sadness is something that tends to linger for a long time, sometimes creeping up even when we think we’ve quashed it for good. But just by recognizing it–by embracing it–by simply acknowledging it instead of burying it away because that’s what “strong” people do, I feel like I’m getting closer to being rid of it. I hope I am. I guess the only way to know for sure is to keep pushing through and trying, right?


#reflection #grief #sadness #lettinggo #zen

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