Musician AMY MANN has a song called The Moth that speaks far too clearly to me because I have felt that same attraction to the flame as mentioned in the song. The song essentially is about someone who just wants the light and warmth without the consequence or worry. There is a terrible fatalism to all of it, to the act of chasing the flame and being the flame, but it is an all too human trait that all of us have to varying degrees.
Romance, in all its colorful terms, is what brings it out the most vibrantly as it’s that flame that draws us when we’re weakest and loneliest. The need for warmth, any warmth enough to call us to it. Even if we know it will not truly warm us. Even if we know it will burn us alive. The need to latch to something else for home, for direction, and for reason beyond ourselves. We cling as the flamer flickers and wavers and even goes out. We flutter around the dying embers and the cooling wick with the hope that we can rekindle that flame. That we have in us something we may not have had in the first place. Lying to ourselves that we can fan flames that never burned for us because some flames burn for themselves and some fires, despite how intense they are and how bright, are merely pyres looking for bodies to burn.
I can’t even count how many flames I chased. Something was missing in me and I thought I could find it in someone else so I chased them. I feel like I wasted most of my young life chasing people and flames. And I won’t say it was them and I won’t say it was me, it’s just that some pieces don’t fit together and sometimes that person you are clinging to is yourself. It’s a bitter fact and one most of us face in life and romance. We talk ourselves in and out of love and convince ourselves we can fix people. That we can solve their puzzle and make them happy when deep down we all know that we can only make ourselves happy and by god if we wanna be miserable that’s just what we’ll be. We’re such a desperately lonely race and we need connection, to a god, to a cause, to a network, to friends, or to an other because we just don’t know how to connect with ourselves. We spend so much time with Us that we forget our own needs. Not the basics, but the higher needs of joy and laughter and fun. Life is not just that. The fact is if we can live life close to the middle we’re doing pretty good. We can’t accept the unhappiness and loneliness though. Being alone doesn’t mean we have to be lonely. It doesn’t mean we have to feel rejected. It means we have to find our center and fan our own flame and if we’re lucky we’ll attract people that want to share theirs with us as we share our flame with theirs and we’ll create an inferno of hope.
Loneliness goes deep though and it’s a weight that is forever tied to each of us like a weight. Some of us learn to swim with that weight, making it to shallower waters where we can stand and the weight is an annoyance and not a burden. Some of us though let it pull us into deeper waters and it eventually drowns us. I have felt that too. The drowning feeling as you watch all of these people you are drawn to for this reason or that, romance or friendship, and they are just not drawn to us. We can flail and try to catch their attention but sadly all we’ll get is the pity that will draw them close enough to us to tease us with their warmth but it won’t last and they’ll move on and away, to a another fire that either intensifies theirs or at that overpowers it and which they can take warmth from for a time.
We so rarely see how broken and bruised we all are. How many scars our hearts wear. Were we to see all of that we’d start to see how connected we truly are. How we are one tribe and one family with a million faces and shades and hearts, each different but true to the flame and true to the loneliness. But we hide that loneliness with rage, with addiction, with false fun, with hate, with depression, and we start to hate the flames around us, seeing them as larger and truer and brighter than ours can ever hope to become. Not seeing that we are the masters of our flames and it lives and dies with us, not others. Not seeing that people, as alluring as they are, as bright and attractive and mesmerizing, are no greater or less than we are but are just different but we can come to despise that difference just as we despise the absence of that light.
And that’s the ugly side of us that we try to forget but need to embrace. That side of us that isn’t pretty, isn’t nice, and isn’t good. The part of us that clings to regret and hate and resentment. We need to embrace it to learn that it’s part of us, that it’s healthy to go through all of it, but that we cannot let it swallow us or snuff our flame. The lower we let our inner flame get the more like a drowning person we become because that weight around our ankle is dragging us out to sea and we’ll take anyone down with us and hurt anything around us, especially ourselves, out of spite. We won’t fight for ourselves, for our own happiness but by god we’ll fight to make sure someone else doesn’t get that happiness either. It’s a dark part of ourselves but if we deny it then we don’t understand it or what it is and can do to us. We can’t take ownership and master it. We will all feel jealousy and frustration with the world but we can’t let it sour us or douse our flame.
We have created a world we expect to be an eternal flame, where we are going to be happy at all times with all things and we are owed everything because we are us and we deserve it. We set ourselves up for disappointment at every turn and don’t want to go through the work of just going through the pain, heartache, and disappointment that life guarantees us. We can get through it, to the light on the other side, but it’s miserable and if we let our own light dim and fail it’s awfully dark and we can get lost. I have been lost for a long time and I hated it. I hated me. And those days still return, but you have to go through them to find the light, to find the flame, and to find the people whose flame can be added to your own.
We can be so parasitical, wanting someone to save us and give us meaning, forgetting all along that if we can’t find something valuable in ourselves then no one else will that can mean anything real to us. We’ll just draw moths that want to feed on our flame until it’s doused. Mining us until there is nothing left and then pressing on because they have dominated us. Because their own flames are but flickers and sparks and they want not to warm themselves but to douse whatever flames they come near. They have found an ability to breathe in the dark depths of the water and want to drown others too. They see a black world with their black hearts and they want to turn the world to ash. And some of us will be drawn to them, because the flame they emit is still bright, it’s just cold and we think we can stoke it, that if we work hard enough we can stoke it and make it warm and we’re willing to let go of everything to make that flame hot in the hopes that it will warm us. There’s no fire at the bottom of the ocean though, and no flame that is real, and the only thing that these people can get us is a watery grave right beside them.
But there is always hope. There are always people who can remind us how brilliant we can shine and how warm we can be. There is always a fire within us and it’s for us to choose to be a moth that chases warmth or a flame that draws other flames. It’s for us to give ourselves meaning, to give our lives worth, and for us to make this life something more than just a gift. We owe it to those before and after and living with us to pay back this gift of life and pay forward what we can. Sink or swim, it’s on us. We can be dealt the worst of hands but no one will look after you like you will and no one will suffer as you suffer. If you won’t save yourself then no one can save you.
But you CAN save yourself.
You can learn to live and learn from the pain of life and to overcome it. To live with the scars and to accept them as part of yourself.
You can learn that not everyone is meant to be in your life. Not every love is meant to last. Not every infatuation, as deep as it may be, can become more than that. Not every friendship will flourish. Not every opportunity will come to fruition. Nothing is promised. Nothing is guaranteed. But the flame survives. We survive. It’s for us to choose to be moth or flame and whichever path we choose it’s for us to make it mean something.
I have been a moth too many times and for too many years but it’s my hope that I am learning to be a flame and to stoke my own inner flame because I know I am lucky enough to have others around me happy to share theirs with me and that’s a lucky and fortunate thing indeed.