Setting the World on Fire, One Flame at a Time

Once upon a time, in a far-away galaxy known as Southern California a little blonde-haired girl thought one day, she would set the world on fire. Her mother encouraged this, assuring her that if she were pretty enough, skinny enough, and okay, maybe also smart enough (like her cousin Randy, who got straight A’s every report card) she could indeed set the world on fire.

But the planets spin on in their orbits, years pass and the little blonde-haired girl found it is harder than one might imagine to actually set the world on fire. Waitresses, bank tellers, secretaries, and even contract managers seldom set the world on fire, but they do pay rent and taxes and buy groceries. The little blonde-haired girl wore all those different hats over time, got married and raised a brilliant daughter of her own; she taught Sunday School and headed the Cup O’Noodles & Goldfish Crackers Ministry at a troubled High school. She sent ripples out through the great Universal Pond and hoped for the best.

If you’ve ever served at a homeless shelter and known the infinite blessing of caring for people who are deeply, profoundly grateful for a meal and your presence you will have experienced the little internal flame of doing something good, of sending out a positive ripple into the Pond. I liken the feeling to putting on a winter coat that has been stored through the hot months and finding money in the pocket. It feels unearned or, like an illicit kiss, it is something wanted but that can’t be shared with anyone; it’s a secret which loses all power if spoken, warming one from the inside out. It’s hugging a co-worker when you know she is struggling, or doing a favor without being asked, like reaching for the strawberry yogurt on the top shelf of the Dairy case for the tiny lady a foot-and-a-half shorter than oneself. At it’s simplest, it is intentionally practicing random acts of kindness.

It is the turn of another new year and I am grateful to see it. The last year has been unsettled and challenging, for those I love as well as for Paul and me. Still, I give thanks for being here to see another trip around the sun, when so many of my young-and-dumb decisions might have precluded it. Long ago I stopped expecting or even wanting to set the world on fire. But if I could wish for one thing this new year, aside from the obvious health, wealth, and well-being of all whom I love, it would be to spend this new orbit as one small flame among many, to get out of my own head oftener and recognize the needs in others of a kind word, a smile, something done without being asked.

At Christmas Eve mass we were all given candles that were lit at the end of the service, and slowly but surely the whole sanctuary was lit by this symbol of Christ’s light brought into the world. This is my thought: that each of us can be a candle in our pew of Life and together, through patience, attentiveness, and kindness, whatever our faith tradition, we can cast out the darkness in the world.

In the immortal words of the Human Torch, Flame On!

flame on


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