Fire and Ice

My first wish was that the kids would forget all about the sky lantern. But my sweet, sweet niece was too, too excited for me to make a wish on her magical fire hazard birthday gift. After putting off the conspiring cousins for a few days with vague excuses, the last evening of their visit had arrived. “Let’s go light the lantern! It’s time to light the lantern!” and what kind of bitchy aunt shuns the thoughtful, wish-making gift of a 13-year-old girl? Not this one.

Sensing my reluctance, my brother-in-law accompanied us to a clearing and helped me prevent the fire-filled globe from getting caught in overhead branches and setting our own yard ablaze. Standing on dry grass, in the dark, lighting matches… I waited for Smokey the Bear to lope out of the woods and maul us for our stupidity. But finally, the paper thingy caught fire, the lantern transformed into a bluish floating orb of loveliness, and we let the thing go. Up and up and up until finally there was nothing left at all. Nothing… except, you know, the belly-churning worry over errant embers falling to earth to torch the golf course and murder my neighbors.

“Did you make a wish, Aunt Britt?”

“You betcha.”

No one die no one die no one die no one die.

I didn’t sleep that night. I spent hours googling the shit out of fire lantern safety and errant ember property damage probabilities. I offered up dozens of bargaining prayers to the Big Guy that I would make it to first light without hearing sirens. I was angry with myself for agreeing to anything involving a release of uncontained, floating flames into a residential area, I cursed the pyromaniac bozo who invented these things, and I felt guilty that my sweet, sweet niece probably sensed that her lovely gift had turned me into a googling, insomniac weirdo. My Cool Aunt cred plummeted as I proved myself to be just like all other worrywart grownups.

In the morning, a quick scan of the local news assured me that no lives or properties were lost. Only then, I was finally able to make fun of myself for getting all panty bunched over a completely legal toy when I spent hours of my own youth launching lawn darts, riding helmetless, and eating batter. And like everything, daylight bleaches the scary out.

Last night, I lost another few hours of sleep over the Ice Bucket Challenge. You’d think someone who is absurdly afraid of fire lanterns would be grateful to douse a potentially flammable yard. You might also think someone whose life has been touched with disease would be a cheerleader for this kind of awareness-raising. But for me, and possibly for my sisters in the Shitty Sorority, this echoes the Pinking of October wherein a crap disease gets tarted up for Fun. I’m actually thrilled that everyone is accepting the Challenge and raising MILLIONS of dollars for a horrifying, incurable disease. I love watching the videos of you gorgeous people being silly for good causes. It’s heartwarming to see social media being used to make us One Community during a time when the world seems like a terrifying shitstorm. I’m a sucker for Community. But here at the Lee’s, I don’t want to invite awareness for yet another illness that my boys might only process as one that has the ability to kill parents. (My quota for answering heartbreaking questions was filled after the opening scene of Guardians of the Galaxy… my boys have had enough “awareness” reminders for one summer.)

Also, selfishly and smugly and shamefully, I have strong, I-gave-at-the-office feelings about Raising Money for Diseases. I mean, aren’t beloved body parts and a head of hair quite sufficient to exempt me from more giving? Of course, Murphy’s Law will dictate that when you try to explain your personal aversion to this viral, feel-good phenomenon, you will not only sound like an asshole, but you’ll–of course– be unwittingly lecturing someone who lost a loved one to this extremely rare disease and just finished filming an ice bucket challenge with her kids and, you know, thinks it’s sorta great and all that. So you not only sound like an asshole, you sorta are one. And God giggles having set up this little scenario to prevent Haughty Blog Girl from composing five, navel-gazing paragraphs about why the Ice Bucket Challenge is complicated for the cancered… forcing the admission of a likelier truth:

I’m vain and un-pretty wet and probably an awful person and would rather mail checks than create and clean up an ice watery mess.

In the meantime, my sky lantern wish is that the money we are raising funds scientific breakthroughs to extend the life and increase the comfort of those with ALS. I hope that backlash against the Ice Bucket Challenge doesn’t erode the sense of Community we need right now. And I want you all to promise you won’t light and release a single fucking sky lantern. Like, ever.

Gorgeous, glowing wish ceremony will always look like the release of terrifying fireballs to insane Aunt Britt.

Gorgeous, glowing wish ceremony will always look like the release of terrifying fireballs to insane Aunt Britt.

21 responses

  1. For someone who so thoroughly kicks my ass at Scrabble, is clearly from a fairer gender, and is surrounded by wonderful Asians, I am amazed at our occasional similarities. I haven’t been “challenged” to dump a bucket of ice over my head which, in weak moments, I feed kind of bad about. But I quickly realize that I would prefer not. I have told many a door-knocker that I make charitable contribution decisions in private and have an aversion to committing funds to a stranger standing on my front step. But I also enjoy watching the videos and hope they make a difference and have written checks on behalf of ALS.

    I am also an over-thinker on safety issues (not saying that you are), and have wondered about those beautiful glowing forest fire starters floating in the sky. I am the guy who makes sure nothing flammable is under my car when parking it in the garage and makes sure the water is turned off to the washer when we leave the house for more than a day…you get the idea.

    Finally, I have to say that I am silently (almost) proud to have made even the smallest contribution to your blog through the magic of photography 🙂

  2. I don’t understand how a toy that could potentially set off another Great Chicago fire. is legal? Of course, you would expect that no level headed adult would allow the use of such a device, even if ti is legal. Bwahaha! Sorry, Britt, I couldn’t resist. I may be worrisome, but if it’s legal, I’m sure some thought has gone into it’s eventual demise and it must be realtively safe. Ha! My kids wanted to shoot fireworks one holiday – fireworks are only allowed on specific holidays here in Ontario, Canada. So I bought some with the intention of taking then to the river shore to use them. I decided to call the police and check the rules before using and found, to my dismay, that they could only be used on private property. I objected to the officer that my neighbor’s trees humg into my yard and were flammanble. he answered : “Does your neighbor have a hose?” Ha! We eventually teamed up with some friends who also had kids and owned a big peice of rural real estate with a meadow.

    ALS ice bucket challenge. Honestly Britt, I don’t think it is possible for anyone to make any excuse that wouldn’t end up making them look like an asshole. Give up, Britt, know when you are beat, hunker your educated butt down and accept your soggy fate. Ha! The rest of us are eagerly waiting to see if your really look like a soaked cat when done.

    Great post britt. Thanks!

    • I’m totally the asshole. Actually, I could probably be forced to douse myself on line for charity, but the thought of involving my boys in this with all of the accompanying explanations was too much for me to stomach. Luckily, the amazing man who nominated us is someone who “gets it” and made it all go away so I wouldn’t feel guilty about it.

      And how the hell can those fire lanterns be legal, right??

  3. For what it is worth, my wife who has cancer also was ticked off a little by the ice bucket challenge. The juxtaposition of giggly healthy people dumping ice on their head w/ the realities of a serious disease must be difficult to process if you are closer to it even if you can fully appreciate that it is raising millions of dollars for ALS. Constant reminders of mortality can be tough to face sometimes. As for the the opening scene of guardians of the galaxy I’m with you….sitting there w/ my boys on either side of me was gut wrenching. I had no clue that was coming, it was very intense and I could see almost see the gears turning in their cute little heads..normally you would think you would be safe in a movie featuring spaceship-flying raccoons and mobile trees who are fighting super villains. I really should have paid more attention to the reviews. All the best to you and yours and we won’t think less of you if you give the ice bucket challenge a pass.

    • When I first took a stab at this essay to explore my mixed feelings about the ice bucket phenomenon, I wrote entirely about Lisa. Barring prayer (which isn’t exactly her bag, though we zealot-y types will not be stopped!), there IS something we can do for your amazing wife: donate to research for metastatic breast cancer. When she was stuck in the hospital over holidays, we donated… when it’s her birthday, we donated… when she’s having a particularly shitty day, we donated. Without any on line fanfare, we know we’re helping in that thinking-of-you-and-doing-THIS way. I’m still sharing her link and informing people who want to know what they can do, to do THIS.

      (Here it is, again!

      Ugh. Guardians, right? Thank God the rest was hilarious and delightful. But I would have appreciated a trigger warning, too.

  4. I have released a flying fire hazard in the name of love and silently berated myself for such a dangerous act of irresponsibility. It was a lesson in poor judgment screamed from the little voice of reason I would not acknowledge. I have also questioned my obligation to “other” charities over the personal burden of my family’s cause; wondering at the uncertain expectation of generosity that accompanies each fundraiser. Thank you, Britt, for infusing uncomfortable conversations with honesty and wit to create a dialogue of integrity in place of shame.

    • I squelched that little voice of reason in the moment, too… and then berated myself for failing to be the Adult in that moment and say aloud that I wasn’t comfortable with potentially setting fire to the golf course.

      This little essay was prompted by the uncomfortable conversation: am I an asshole for NOT joining a marvelous, wonderful, effective grassroots movement with noble goals? But those of us with other, personal burdens get a free pass on this one… maybe.

      • And then you talked about it, honestly and with humor, rather than keeping it buried quietly beneath guilt. This was the thought I kept returning to with admiration long after I read your post.

  5. Found your wonderful post via Maria’s JBBC blog, where we both were mentioned for our conflicted feelings re: the ALS challenge.

    I was puzzled that people thought they were raising awareness by dumping water on themselves in lieu of making a $100 donation to a deserving charity. It reminded me so much of Pinktober.

    Research cannot be funded by water. Water cannot stop the suffering and death of people by dreadful diseases such as ALS and cancer. Only research can do that. And only money, donated directly to research, can speed that process along.

    My opinions regarding this ice bucket challenge and the “pinking up” of October are not popular, but they stem from my own experience with breast cancer — and the realization that not enough is being done to figure out what causes cancer OR how to keep people from dying from it, and we have to be the voice for those who no longer have one. That is why I blog.

    Thank you for sharing your observations about this ice bucket challenge!

    • I read yours through Maria, too! When I first wrote this, I had a paragraph about trusting the NIH to distribute funds for research. When you look into Komen or that deplorable Save the Ta tas organization, you find that the majority of the money sent by generous, well-meaning donors is used to fund stuff that ISN’T research. I think the Ice Bucket Awareness thing, right now, in this world where reporters and other innocents are being murdered, is something that brings us together. I still think it’s difficult to express these conflicted feelings without sounding like a big jerk, though. Yours was done quite well, facts mixed with personal experience. Thanks for writing!! xoxo

  6. Wow! I swear I could have written this post! Of course not nearly as well or as clever as you did.
    The pressure to be the “cool” aunt can be unbearable sometimes. My only thoughts as I watched my 4 year old Grandniece set off one of those lanterns was that something was going to catch fire and to question my sister’s sanity for allowing it.
    I love the movie “Guardians of the Galaxy” but that opening scene broke my heart and my nieces I brought along did have some difficult questions.
    The ice bucket challenge has had me in a complete state of panic since it began. Every time I watched one my mantra was, “Please don’t say my name, please don’t say my name”. Like you, as a cancer survivor I thought I might get away without being nominated because I had already done my bit for the “disease” train. Of course that was balanced by the guilt of knowing someone personally who fights with ALS every day of her life. I honestly believe it was the overall stress that put me in the position of seeking medical emergency help when my name finally was listed so I didn’t hear/see it. Twenty four hours went by, then 48 and eventually a week. They will have to settle for a donation.
    Thanks for speaking my mind for me, so eloquently. 😉

  7. Pingback: Cancer, Facebook, and Harley Quinn’s Ass | Blooms and Bubbles

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