Terrified Yet Transfixed

Amazing, seductive, life-giving, nurturing. Terrifying.

     My son was driving in the wee hours through rural Georgia on his way to deliver a load of department store goods in Kentucky, when he saw a huge, as in he thought he was seeing things it was so huge, orange ball of light pulsing in the darkness. Both thoughts simultaneously in his brain:  It’s a fire! It can’t be a fire!

     Within moments, he got closer and saw it was a mansion as big as an apartment building engulfed in raging, throbbing flames. The ball of fire grabbing up at the sky, the mansion itself like a shadow inside the flames.

     There was no one anywhere in sight. He stopped the truck and called 911, straining to see if there anyone around. He saw no one. No nearby houses. No sirens.

     Being so close to that inferno was deeply unsettling to him. He was transfixed and terrified, even though he was at a safe distance from the blaze.

     His experience reminded me of this story from the Ibibo people of eastern Nigeria, “Fire’s Wild Dance.” Long ago, the Sun and Moon were happily married and living here on the earth. They had many friends and loved to entertain. Sometimes they could hear Wind whooshing in from far off, other times he spoke quietly at their door to announce his arrival. Fire was animated and loved to tell stories. Because he danced and waved his arms when telling his stories, they would visit outdoors in the open yard for safety. The Trees in the nearby forest were friends as well. Since they couldn’t come to the house, Sun and Moon went to the forest to visit them. They also went to Water’s home as Water knew it would not be safe for he and his family to visit as they were so large, they might do harm.

One day, Sun and Moon decided to build a larger house, then they could have larger parties and everyone could come. So with much work, they did build a house of wood and thatch five times larger than their first home. They invited everyone to the celebration. They cooked pots of food, gathered fruits for days ahead in preparation. Yet again, Water said he must decline as the wonderful new home was still too small and he and his family might bring danger.

Wind arrived bustling and swirling, blowing through the forest. Fire crackled and sparkled as he danced in. The festivities and food were abundant. Wind was singing with his rich voice along with Fire as he told his story. Fire leapt excitedly in his dancing.

And then… a spark caught on Wind’s breath and flew to the thatched roof. Soon the house was in flames. Wind stopped singing. Fire stopped dancing. Sun and Moon began shouting. Fire cried out, “There is nothing I can do now. Only Water can stop the flames!”

Sun called to Wind, “Go quickly to Water. Tell him to bring all his family. We need them now!”

Snohomish River, Lowell park.
Photo by MDessein

By this time, the Trees in the forest were also aflame. Water arrived with his family and they were able to put out the fire of the house, but not the Trees. It seemed everything was on fire. Water sent Wind back to summon all his relatives. Cascades of water rushed over the land, rising higher and higher. Soon, the fires were out, nothing could be seen. The land was under water. The trees were under water. Wind had blown away. Fire had disappeared. Sun and Moon flew up to the sky for safety.

It took a long time for Water to make his way back to the sea. There was nothing left of Sun and Moon’s home. Every day and night, they came back to look around earth for a new home. They have not found any place as magnificent as the home they had, so they remain in the sky.

My son drove past the place of the fire two days later on his return to Tennessee. Absolutely nothing was left standing. A huge black area was the only evidence the mansion had been.

What? How? Why? The unanswered questions disturbed him. He felt a visceral gut punch reliving the intensity of the experience; the uncontrollability, the wildness of the fire.

Amazing, seductive, life-giving, nurturing. Terrifying.

Been there, have you?

P.S. you can find Tom Nevin’s version of “Fire’s Wild Dance” in his book, Zamani.


  • Colette Bolyn

    June 22, 2020 at 3:38 am Reply

    Great story Mary. But then you’ve always been a great story teller.
    Have a wonderful day.

    • Mary

      June 22, 2020 at 3:54 am Reply

      Colette! Thank you for your time and reading. May you be doing well. Best to you.

    • Aletha Riter

      June 22, 2020 at 6:23 pm Reply

      Thank You again for the lovely story telling. I wish that you were in th Campfire/Horizon group when we were kids growing up. I bet you had some great tales back then as well. So vivid I was envisioning the whole situation as if in real time. 💕🌌

      • Mary

        June 23, 2020 at 5:00 pm Reply

        Hi Aletha! I had lots of myth and folktale books back then, several I still have. Remember the book orders from Scholastic?
        Thank you for reading~

  • Joy Ross

    June 22, 2020 at 5:44 pm Reply

    Often when life puts events like that in our lives…..we ask…”what am I supposed to get out of this?? ” or at least I have. of course the troubling events are the ones that give us most pause. The happy we soak up and go with. But, the lessons, oh those come harder. And this one of your son’s is like that.

    Answer: sometimes it is not our lesson to learn. And then, again, who know when the real answer will settle into us. Life and its gifts, eh?

    • Mary

      June 23, 2020 at 5:02 pm Reply

      Life and lessons. Problems as lessons. I listened to Tony Robbins talk today – we need problems to grow and learn. What a concept you present: perhaps it is not our lesson, we are witnesses. Thank you~~

  • Aletha Riter

    June 23, 2020 at 7:08 pm Reply

    Yes I remember Scholastic..they were always at my eye doctor’s as a kid

  • Damon

    June 24, 2020 at 3:36 pm Reply

    When I was 13 our family home burned down in the middle of the night (and no lives were lost). Those who say that fire is alive are not joking. It eats and eats and eats like a ravenous monster. Good piece of writing, as always. Thank you, Mary.

  • Beverly Allen

    June 27, 2020 at 8:22 pm Reply

    Clearly a story for our time. Thanks Mary!

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