Playing with Fire

Learning how to play with fire is one of the essential lessons on the path to adulthood.

There are so many lessons to learn:

–       don’t stand too close or you’ll get burnt

–       begin with small combustible items to get the fire going

–       there needs to be space between each piece of kindling so that air can circulate

–       air is fuel for the fire

–       a good wind can get the fire going in places you weren’t expecting

–       it has the power to burn

–       it has the power to destroy

–       it leaves a pile of ash after its over

–       some seeds can only explode and come to life in a fire

–       green shoots look amazing on the burnt out black stumps after a bushfire

–       it can kill everything in its path

–       it only takes a spark to keep the fire burning

–       it glows, gives warmth and inspires

I am sure there are many more lessons fire teaches, but these are some of the ones I have learnt. I have learnt them over the years from campfires in the desert, standing by for evacuation during bushfire season, listening in to the news and operation rooms where wild fire disasters were unfolding, watching my own children learn their own lessons (sometimes very anxiously).

Hildegard for you, the fire was within, you combusted with passion and for generations we have been basking in that glow and been fuelled by it. Your Fire of Creation is stunning and this is a little taste for readers who haven’t ever had the treat of listening.

The fire can burn brightly to show us where to go, and guide us to a safe place as well. The eternal flame, a long time symbol of remembrance and reflection of hard won battles and promise of a peaceful future.

And so it was that theidea of playing with fire that lit me up this week when Australia’s first female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard  (who had certainly been flame grilled) gave her post  parliament interviews to adoring fans in Sydney and Melbourne. Around the campfire of our TVs and twitter-feeds women like me who weren’t there in the flesh, hung every word, seeking our own closure to the circumstances of her demise.

As a “first” Ms Gillard had a baptism of fire.  The fact she is a red head was mentioned more than once.  We heard her speech that ricocheted around the world, denouncing misogyny as the theory and sexism as the practice. And with the fire in her belly, many others if us were warmed – many of us have stood to close to those flames and been burnt.

Gillard urges us to have a sophisticated conversation and to look for the shades of grey in the issues. There maybe shades of grey for the educated and resourced, but it is pretty black and white if you don’t earn equal pay, if you face domestic violence, or if you are being sexually harassed at work.

And then there are all the women and girls who won’t ever get to make or hear a speech like that, murdered at birth because of their gender, not getting to school because of their gender or being sold in a market place because they are female. For these women and girls it is shades of blood red.

There is still plenty more to do before there is the inclusion, respect and equality frame that  Anne Summers kindly put around the analysis of what we all witnessed and for some also participated in (nb Germaine Greer).

I want to fan the flames that will grow up more women in leadership, that will inspire,  warm and comfort us all. I want to fan the flames that will bring down institutions and practices because their patriarchal foundations are crumbling. And I want to do all of that with songs of joy, with justice in my heart and having learnt the lessons of playing with fire.

PS  Hildegard, I love that your scribe was a man.

Hildegard channelling the Holy Spirit and her scribe taking it all down!

Hildegard channelling the Holy Spirit and her scribe taking it all down!

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