Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Too Close to the Fire

Res Publica

August 2007

by Clint Leibolt

I lounged in the chair gazing into the dancing flames. This was fire. A thing of power, beauty, and mystery that shimmered before me. Yet tonight was not the night for such thoughts. Tonight was a time of tales, and they were flowing nearly as fast as golden liquid flows from taps every Friday night. The circle of men was filled with lusty joy, yet the fire drew me in.

The fire was fascinating. It was a fundamental element of the world, a comforter of man for centuries, a companion across time. It invited me to explore this universal bond, and my mind could not resist the scent of the trail. I thought of cowboys, warriors, preachers, fugitives, and families who had received help from these simple flames. Fire seemed to be on all accounts amazing. It had cooked our food; it was providing heat; it would meet the needs of life. Yet deeper in the flames, beyond this practical shell, lay the mystery of the soft flickers that could bring to man so many profound thoughts. It appeared that past the blue flames and orange flames lay a core that endlessly glowed a soft red. This was what I tried to understand as I gazed. This central and universal center could not be perfectly seen though, for the flames danced agonizingly across my vision. I was beckoned to look but not permitted to see. I could not break the spell. The flicker of the flame always teased, always encouraged, and always provided a different and incomplete look at the center. My mind struggled to capture the unceasing glimpses and I hoped that—I felt a cuff on my shoulder, and a face before me drawled, “Thinking again are we?”

I looked up without excuse. The surrounding men were adjusting slightly in their seats, recovering from a laugh that I had not even heard. Mumbling something about the fire, I threw a limb upon it. He caught my eye again, the young man who had delivered the friendly cuff, and shook his head disapprovingly at my negligence. I averted my eyes back to the fire and waited for the lonely silence which only I felt to end.

“Well that’s kinda like the time I shot that twelve point down on the Richard’s place,” someone began. And then the story was running. For this man, the weaving of truth, half-truth, and no-truth into one grand story was clearly an art. Our eyes were fixed on his face as he led the story across giant deer, trucks, tractors, and the occasional villain. But the fire called. It danced again before me catching my eye. It promised more than a tall-tale. It told me it had a deeper truth if I would only gaze at it long enough—
“That deer was shot right in the head, and it was runnin’ round just crazy. We chased it round that big corn field below Neitsman’s house for all day. It got dark, and we was still tryin’ to catch it cause you could hear it runnin’ through the field,” said the speaker.
I tuned in to the conversation in time to catch this and join the approving head nod from the crowd. With that nod, I caught a flash in the eye of the speaker. He began again, and this time my mind did not stray to the fire. As he continued the story, I saw a light burning out from his soul. The light did not dance, it did not change, it just was. Sometimes it glowed brightly, sometimes dimly, and always honestly. The glow did not beckon me to search the depths of any truth. Rather it was a soft and open revelation of affection. It offered a human element that the fire could not.

This time I needed no clap on the back to wake me from a trance. I was enjoying, experiencing the moment—no thoughts, just the pure sentiment of the story. It was right for that moment only, and no universal idea could add or subtract a thing from the moment. The laughter ceased; I cleared my throat and spoke: “That’s like the time down on Robinson’s place when we shot a huge buck that ran off into the thicket down on the Muddy Fork. Couldn’t get that deer out no way till I crawled in and tied a rope to it. Pulled it with the Yamaha bucking worse than a bull—couldn’t hardly ride the thing… ” I don’t know what else was said, I only remember the joy and affection of the moment. If it were simple like a fire, I could recreate it for you now, but to recapture the glow of that night would be as futile as trying to start a fire without any heat. The fire still flickered as a central anchor to our group, but no one looked at it anymore. We had moved beyond its dull glow, finding a brighter light and greater enjoyment in each others’ friendship.

Clint Leibolt is a senior from Perrysville, Ohio, majoring in Political Science and Business Administration.

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