Thursday, March 04, 2004


In which Echo walks fire, the cosmic joker reappears and Bob succumbs to the pun of a lifetime.

Last time, you remember, having missed the key shot of the priest firewalking I was perfectly positioned in firm resolve to capture the key shot of Echo firewalking. I should mention my tacit assumption that the cosmic practical joker had done his work, had his bit of fun with us and was even now attending to greater mishaps elsewhere.

Echo was at the end of one of the two long firewalker lines, so it would be a while before she was to hotfoot it; I could scan the scene at my leisure. I watched as grandmas walked through fire, grandpas, priests, truck drivers, young mothers, rockers, you name it. I looked here and there, taking it all in: the sweating fire managers, flying sparks, a group of firewalked ladies with pantlegs rolled and fire-tenderized feet mincing very gingerly over the sharp gravel on their way back from the fire to the foot-washing bath behind the pickle-selling tents, a trough filled with black water surrounded by naked feet and people whispering Ow Oo Ow as they washed off their sizzling soles and tenderly put their socks and shoes back on.

I glanced quickly back to Echo's line, to find out how far she had moved ahead: she wasn't in the line. I would have sworn...looked at the other line. There was no other line. The priest was waving to those in the long line, asking them to move to the empty line. Echo had already done so, and was at that very moment walking resolutely across the embers, Sam Peckinpah directing: just as Echo was about to step out of the shimmering heat waves on the other side of the fire I--raised-my---camera---in---e-v-e-r---s-o-o-o-o---s-l-o-o-o-o-w---m-o-t-i-o-n and snappedjustonequickperfectshot. In the photo, I managed to capture the left leg of Echo sticking out of the nose of a cosmic joker agent who had just at that moment stepped in front of the lens. Such is the particular firewalking photo record of that day, which I will needless to say not share with you here.

Echo soon returned mincing over the gravel, holding her footprinted parchment, saying, "Wow! That was hot!" Upon my asking why that was a surprise to her, she said that she had planned to sort of trot quickly across the coals, but the priest who stood at the head of each line to keep things going in sacred regularity, as well as to keep folks from chickening out-- or worse, giving up in mid-walk-- said something into each firewalker's ear, then when the furnace was clear gave each a hard shove of ki in the small of the back to send them firmly on their way across the searing expanse. It turned out that what he'd been saying, and what he said into Echo's ear, was: "Don't run. Walk slowly and evenly across." So Echo had to walk as though strolling casually through a blast furnace.

As she washed the ashes from her practically hissing feet in the black bath and put her shoes back on, and as we walked (she gingerly) around the shrine a bit before returning to the car for the drive home, Echo began to speak meditatively on the nature of pain: how, although this pain she was feeling in her feet right now was just like conventional pain-- it had all the earmarks, so to speak, and was irritating in the extreme, like all the everyday pains-- she could not relate to it as she did to the usual pain, couldn't be negative toward it, because it was kami related.

The objective in standard self/pain relations is to make the pain go away; this pain, in contrast, was self-chosen, indeed inflicted for sacred purposes, and was therefore itself sacred; so she had to respect it, sort of even savor it as being positive in nature, and accruing benefit with its extension, so in a way she had to enjoy the suffering, nurture the pain. This went against every instinctive principle, affording an illuminating gestalt on the reality and illusion of pain. I had to agree with her; it was indeed an interesting perspective on pain, though I would not pursue the matter further by going home and sticking my foot in the woodstove or striking any part of my body with a hammer.

In closing, I must make a brief comment regarding the courage of Echo and all the others I had seen confront the fire. I must state for the record that of all the many who stood in line to do the brave deed, whether grandparent or teen, when the time came to walk the embers, not a single one got cold feet.