The Fire Inside
Written by
Rita Gardner
September 2014
Written by
Rita Gardner
September 2014

A dear friend posted a note to my Facebook wall the other day. She’d been thinking about writing, one of the things that brings her true joy. But, she said, she was “absolutely fearful” of anyone reading or commenting on her writing. She wrote: “I think of you because you are so courageous as to allow anyone in this world - people you don't even know - to read your words (private thoughts) that you have painstakingly put to paper.”

I just want to say—to her—and to anyone who has fears about putting their inner thoughts on paper, that sometimes it’s not really a courageous act at all; it’s a necessary act. And we all find some time in life when we MUST do something—and we do it. What that thing is could be anything at all. It might be when we find ourselves all of a sudden caregiving for an aged or mentally disabled family member. It isn’t something that fits with our “life plan” and yet we do it. People call us courageous, but we don’t see it that way; it’s just something we have to do.

Often, however, I think inspiration comes from a fire that burns within—and a moment arrives when it’s no longer possible to tamp down the flame, or try to keep it buried. I want to say to my friend that we all are in the same boat, no one of us more courageous than the other. Our fears can be like relentless ocean waves, trying to swamp our vessel, and—unfortunately—sometimes succeeding. But deep inside, hope flickers too, and it can be a lifesaver. I’m reminded of a poem by David Whyte called “Out on the Ocean.” He writes of being alone in a kayak, five miles from shore, waves raging around him as he pulls desperately for home. Here are the last two stanzas:

“and the spark behind fear

recognized as life

leaps into flame


always this energy smoulders inside

when it remains unlit

the body fills with dense smoke.”


When I first read that poem, I could almost smell his words and feel an ashy heaviness in my own bones. It’s a reminder that there comes a time—or many times—when we struggle, filled with that same dense smoke that threatens to choke us. But if we can see it is also energy, still alive (even if just barely smoldering,) then maybe—just maybe--it’s time to let the spark ignite, burn through the fear, and bring us safely to shore.


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