The Old Woman and the Fire
By Valerie L. Egar
A very long time ago, when everyone spoke the same language and the rocks, trees and animals spoke as clearly as any human, an old woman left the place where she’d been born. She’d been widowed for many years and her children were grown and far away. During a war, foreign soldiers ravaged her farm and left no food for her to eat. Her neighbors had their own struggles and could not help.
The woman pulled on her worn boots, cut a walking stick from an alder tree in the front yard, glanced at the house where she had raised her family and began to walk. She was heavy with sorrow, sad to leave her home and worried how she would fend for herself. Her sorrow and worries weighed upon her like a heavy sack of potatoes.
She soon came to a rushing river. It was clear and sparkled in the morning light. The old woman sat by the river to rest and had an idea. “River, river, will you take my sorrow and my worries? They are too much for me to carry, but you are strong and flow swiftly. Surely you can take them away.”
“No,” replied the river. “Do not leave them with me. They are heavy and will sink like a stone and be mine forever. I cannot take them.”
The woman walked on, observing everything around her. A gentle breeze kissed her face and cooled her. “Wind,” the old woman said. “You are so kind to refresh me. Will you take my worries? Blow away my sorrow? I am old and growing tired of carrying them.”
The wind huffed and huffed. “No, I cannot,” it replied. They are heavy and will not move no matter how hard I blow.”
Once again, the old woman travelled on. She was weary and hungry. Her worries grew as she walked and her back ached under the terrible weight of her sorrow. On a rocky path over a mountain, the woman asked, “Earth beneath my feet, may I give you my worries? May I bury my sorrow in you?”
A deep voice replied. “If you bury them, they will live in me forever. I do not want them. I cannot.”
That night the woman sat alone at the edge of a great forest. She built a small fire, boiled water for tea and roasted a small potato. The fire warmed her and she looked into the flames. “Fire, will you take my worries and my sorrow?”
The flames crackled as the fire answered. “Yes, give them to me and I will change them into something else. I will turn your worries into ash, lighter than feathers and the wind will whisk them away. I will shine light through your tears and make rainbows. I will burn away what has no use and leave pure gold. I will take your burdens and transform them.”
The woman understood and looked through her small rucksack for things to feed the fire. A small pebble from her village. Living there was behind her, she had no need for it. An old dress she’d worn during hard times. Her empty coin purse. A sad letter from her daughter. To say thank you, she added a pinch of lavender from the garden she’d left behind. Smoke rose and she danced in it, singing for the first time in many years.
A much younger woman awakened in the morning, refreshed and bright, excitement for new adventures burning in her heart.
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Copyright 2018 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied, reproduced or distributed without permission from the author.
Published August 12, 2018 Biddeford Journal Tribune (Biddeford, ME).