It is said fire purifies, and for that my wife and I perform a ritual every New Year’s. We write all the things we want to forget of the previous year on strips of paper and burn them. This year, when we stepped into the frigid cold one second after midnight, my wife held a toilet paper tube crammed with thin stips of denunciations. My tube looked identical.
We stood oblivious to the weather and joined in the cacophany of our neighbors as we all whistled and cheered and yelled obscenities about the previous two hundred ninety-one days. Every few seconds small fireworks blossomed overhead, rekindled our shouts and catcalls, and though all of us appeared as only shadows beneath the streetlights or remained unseen in the darkness of our own yards, we howled united in a common cause–death to the Year of COVID.
I lit a small fire in a small portable barbecue grill. My wife laid her tube in the flames. I laid mine beside hers. We watched the tubes turn to ash, as if the rising smoke could wisp away all we had burned.
Against our better judgment, we stayed up two more hours, hoped the next time we opened the front door the world would be different, like Dorothy stepping into the color world of Oz. My wife and I knew better, but still we hoped.
It is said fire purifies; this year it cannot. Like so many others in the world, my wife and I carry too many unhealed wounds from last year: the loss of her dream, a yoga studio that celebrated its second anniversary only days before California issued “Shelter in Place” directives; leaving thirty years of our lives behind in a move from the West Coast back to the Colorado Rockies; the passing of a dearest friend, and the passing of the cutest little fella we’ve ever rescued from the SPCA…
… and the devastating fires in the western United States, and all over the world; the shooting of innocent people by policemen; the political destructiveness of a madman in the White House and the misguided elected officials who furthered (and for another two weeks will continue to further) his dastard, narcissistic plans…
… and the pandemic which killed nearly two million people, forced too many people into unemployment, has closed so many of the businesses that supported so many people, and which will persist in shutting down so many more as it continues its wave of global depredation into this new year.
The fire did not erase all my wife and I hoped to forget. We knew that as we stepped out beneath a clear blue sky New Year’s day and crunched through snow toward the path which follows alongside the Cache la Poudre River, one of only fourteen wild rivers remaining in the United States. Years ago the river was sacred to us, and once again has become another of our rituals, our stream of hope for the future that flows from the majestic Rockies.
After a thirty-year absence from Fort Collins–the home of our college alma maters, the town where met, and the birthplace of our daughter–we have returned full-circle to start fresh.
Something inside me says the mountains and the waters of our past will cleanse us. Maybe 2021 will be better than last year.