The 4th of July weekend found me taking care of outdoor chores around the house: painting the part near the roof I totally forgot to cover last summer, trimming overgrown trees, weeding the garden. And the biggest task-cleaning the garage, that necessary catch-all, filled with empty cartons you plan to use some day to mail holiday gifts to faraway loved ones, shelves of seasonal décor in wild array precariously balanced among empty mason jars for canning, and bins and bins of stuff and things. All of it amid sawdust and spider webs. It made me realize how sentimental I can get. Keeping things I don’t need or even like, merely because of who gave them to me or where I got them in the first place. It was time to get ruthless. And I did. I made a pile to give to Goodwill and an even bigger pile to recycle and toss.
Then I came upon the bin with my old tax returns. Remembering how my accountant advised keeping them for seven years, I happily realized I could eliminate this bin altogether because it held returns starting in 1997. The thought of spending that much time placing them page by page through my little home shredder daunted me. So I decided to burn them.
Out came the big cast iron cauldron I use for seasonal Sabbat celebrations in my back yard. I soaked the lawn surrounding it with the hose on this hot, dry day and using some of the small, brittle branches from this mornings’ butterfly bush trim, I ignited a flame. Pulling up a lawn chair I began to feed the fire. Worksheets, copies, records of expenditures, ‘97, ‘98, ‘99. Notes from my accountant about the difference between a SEP and a SIMPLE, mileage, write off categories 2000, ‘01, ‘02. Check book registers, reminders of supplies bought for this conference, that workshop, the other ceremony, ‘03, ‘04, ‘05. Gaia’s Temple 1099’s, two year comparisons, envelopes of receipts, ‘06. Flames flared, smoke billowed. I watched as the cauldron filled with ashes, witnessing the great transformation that only fire brings.
Oh, if only I could burn away my past mistakes this easily. The harsh words. The unkind actions. The unconscious gestures of overblown ego that caused rifts in cherished friendships. The misunderstandings that resulted in painful loss. Oh, if only the fire could take my blunders and faults, consume my regret and shame and sorrow, and transform them into something useful, like these ashes that will be added to my compost pile. If only I could be similarly transformed so that I could accept the error of my ways and forgive myself.
Before long, years of financial detail had become nothing more than ash. I sat there watching the smoke rise and the fire die down for a while and it occurred to me that perhaps, in some parallel way, I had burned away some of those old mistakes. My heart and soul have been slowly composting them and, like these ashes that will amend my soil and keep the slugs off my zucchini and lettuce, those past mistakes are serving to support my growth now. I feel wiser for sure, more patient, less angry. I feel I have nothing more to prove and that takes the bite out of my words and the sting out of my actions these days.
By late afternoon, when the cauldron had sufficiently cooled so I could return it to its place in my beautifully cleaned and organized garage, I felt free. Granted, it doesn't reach the magnitude stated in the Declaration of Independence, but in my own small way, my personal fireworks let freedom ring.