FIRE IN THE NIGHT |
October 06, 2006
We burn a lot of things out here. There is a huge pit where we destroy much of our trash. There is no city dump to drop things off, where trash is divided into papers, plastics, and metals to help with the ever-imminent energy crisis always lurking behind the door. There is also no Environmental Protection Agency. Somebody surely cares, somewhere, but alas, he is not here. Just tonight I walked outside and the air was thick with acrid smoke. It smelled like burning plastic or rubber or something else one wouldn't normally burn back home.
We burn anything that may be considered classified. It could be the address label off of a box that our family has sent us, a personal letter, or an official military document. If the enemy can use it to his advantage, just burn it. Leave nothing to chance.
There are burn barrels and little pits dug into the ground all over. Sometimes at night you pass by an area and see mysterious darkened figures around a barrel alight with orange flame, like hobos in a New York back-alley. Or like robed men in sandals on an island in the Euphrates a mere mile from a large American military base, shadowed figures lost in thought. Add to this the Muslim prayers coming over loudspeakers from way too close, and it hits you just how much your personal reality has changed. The man who is usually praying sounds passionate, and fully enthralled in the words. It reminds me of a Native American prayer, as the vibrato voice rises and falls with a rhythm that is frantic and unsettling.
I think Alfred Hitchcock would have loved this place at night. Without streetlamps, the darkness is complete, and you can find yourself on the walk back from the chow hall after dinner in a strange land of shadow and danger, your perception limited by the power of your flashlight. Fire breaks up the darkness. It is a welcome sight.
As the weeks roll by, I fill up a box with paper I need to burn. I like to go out at night under the stars when I think it's safe and feed my paper into the fire, piece by piece, my eyes scarlet with the flames as my thoughts are reflected in them. I stand close because the heat doesn't bother me much. I have become accustomed to heat. Never again will I stand in America in the summer and complain about the temperature. Conversely, 60 degrees will probably chill me to the bone.
We live our days in a place of harsh realities, of danger, of intense heat, of learning the hard way, of brotherhood, of war, of sacrifice, of bold action, of bitter tears, of love, of hate, of regeneration, and of history. But every once in a while, in the silence of the night, we simply stand around a fire and feed paper into the flames, each one of us lost in our own quiet thoughts.
As September came to a close, I ripped it off my calendar and walked out to the barrel. I felt symbolic as I sacrificed September to the fire -- but it's only paper. Some of us have sacrificed much, much more.