The Rim Fire, having incinerated almost four hundred square miles in and around Yosemite National Park, is approaching containment. The carnage in Syria, having killed better than a hundred thousand Syrians and created countless more refugees, is not. Because the last fifteen hundred or so were killed with chemical weapons, America is waltzing with the notion of military action: not war, precisely, but something . . . appropriate.
One event resonates environmental damage, the other geopolitical. Inevitably, the two intersect, but whether that conjoining is causal or metaphorical is tough to say. The cosmos is rife with metaphor, with parallel, with miraculous connectivity; but it is easy to find pattern or purpose where none exists or is only imagined.
How, then, do things begin? The Rim Fire was at one point a hunter’s campfire. Before that it was an anticipated outing. It has become, as of this writing, the fourth largest fire in California’s history.
Syria was likely longer in the ignition. Perhaps if a Tunisian street vendor in despair and outrage hadn’t immolated himself, the Arab Spring wouldn’t have spread its crimson flowering around the Mediterranean. On the other hand it might have been inevitable: a conflagration built, tindered, fertile for any spark to ignite it.
Apparently there’s no more apt metaphor than fire to contemplate the mechanisms of change. Things catch. Things burn. Things go out. I woke early one September morning and heard a first tentative radio report that a plane had flown into a building. In my mind I pictured a tiny Cessna gone astray. The world, we knew, must be forever changed. Two wars and a recession later I’m still at the same job, still riding the same commute.
Of course, everything does change. Once a nation woke to find itself at war. That was 1941. Or maybe it was 1914. Nations have stirred to the same rude alarm down through human history: the eventuality so often unimaginable—until it happens.
But this isn’t about war or environmental catastrophe—it’s about that moment: the moment when causality and consequence balance on a knife-edge, when the unknown looms imminent, seen or unseen. Any moment can be that moment.
For instance, I remember the moment many years ago—the precise synaptic firing—when my first novel was conceived. Not born, but conceived, because it wouldn’t be a novel for a long time and it wouldn't be a finished one for even longer. And it wasn’t even the novel that day, but just its title: an image: but like the most hapless zygote it held within itself the potentiality to become.
And all the moments along the way, each bifurcation of choice and happenstance. The knife-edge between stability and chaos, attainment and surrender, reconciliation and conflagration: the duality inherent in existence. The book might never have been written; the fire might never have slipped beyond control; the war might never have begun.
We live in a hurricane of these moments, perhaps more so now than at any time in history in this increasingly smaller, more crowded, more kinetic world. On some forthcoming dawn we’ll wake to discover—something. Something momentous. War will have come; an earthquake will have struck, or a tsunami; the aliens will have landed; nuclear fusion or the cure for cancer will have been discovered. Momentous. Of the moment.
And when we’re done grieving or wailing or celebrating or burying the dead, we’ll pick ourselves up and get on with the other moments—the little strung-together ordinary or extraordinary moments—that make up our perpetually momentous lives.