When to Act

A small group of people huddled nervously around the flaming artwork.

Allow me to back track: There were about 70 people total, flowing around the outdoor venue, and naturally pooling into different pockets of appreciation for separate artistic installations. Some pieces were on fire, some were not. Others were participatory experiences.

This was the night I would really discover what “participatory” means.

I was standing in an informal circle of about a dozen people around a small temple-shaped artwork that was burning, admiring the installation as it half melted, half incinerated.

Firelight glow highlighted the happy and quietly proud smile of the young woman who constructed the piece. She was standing with her boyfriend and friends across the fire from me, and I was present to a general sense of peaceful ease and appreciation.

As the flame grew bigger, I chatted lightly with the people around me, about this and that. I happened to overhear the young woman say, “I hope the fire doesn’t burn through the platform.” This caught my attention.

Let me just say, dear reader, that through all my college years I worked as a lifeguard. There is a certain lifeguard mentality one cultivates… A prickly, hair standing up on the back of your neck kind of awareness that is activated when someone *might* start running too fast around the pool, or rough housing *might* get out of hand. My prickly attention was activated, and I shifted my attention to the larger group.

The small structure was burning on top of a piece of aluminum foil, on top of a platform of some kind. The artist’s friend said, “You know aluminum foil doesn’t really stop a fire.” He asked her, “What’s under the foil?”

The woman’s eyes grew wider, reflecting concern as she replied, “Cardboard.”

The tension in the group was palpable, but subdued. No one was freaking out. But there was suddenly an inquiry in the air about what would happen next. Or maybe that was just me.

I started doing permutations in my head about what might be possible or necessary in the next few moments. Certainly it would not come to me causing anything… These folks surely had everything under control. But just in case they didn’t, what was possible? I thought of the water bottle in my backpack, but recognized that it wouldn’t be enough to put out the fire. The venue was on the waterfront, but it would take even a fast runner about five minutes to get to the water, and would they even be able to reach the water or was the shore elevated from it and what would they carry the water back in, anyway!?!?

Certainly it would not come to me causing anything… Would it? And if it did, how would I know when to act? What if the “right thing” was something else, and I inadvertently caused the “wrong thing” to happen? What if it was not my “place” to do anything? It wasn’t my installation, after all. What if, by taking action, I made the situation worse instead of better?

The fire continued to grow, and began to burn through the aluminum foil. A fellow in the group said, “Aren’t these all wood chips we’re standing on?”

That was, for me, the final straw. I could feel my heart beating faster, and I sprang into action. I quickly asked the artist and her crew, “Is it okay if I do something here?” She replied, “Yes… please.”

I turned around into the crowd and, using my biggest presence and loudest voice said, “If anybody has a water bottle please come here now! Please pass this message outward!” I trusted the crowd, and that the message would get to who it needed to get to.

One man immediately emerged out from the crowd and handed me his water bottle. I approached the now substantial fire with his and my water bottles in hand. I recognized that if I were to douse the fire consecutively, it would not work. Nor could I, as one person, reach the full expanse of what would need to be reached for ultimate impact. I turned back around and said to the man and the people around him, “Who’s with me?” He stepped forward and I handed him back his water bottle.

We were suddenly a team… A team who needed to coordinate timing to make the best use of the resources we had. Armed with water bottles, we stepped forward, unscrewing the caps. I looked at him and nodded, as though to say, “Ready?” His reply nod said “Yes.”

He watched me for the mark.

I counted, “One. Two. Three!”

On three we poured water, naturally targeting the most strategic locations in the fire.

We did our best, and the fire ebbed, but was not out. My heart sank, and my concern increased.

Out from the crowd, another man came with a large water container, and doused the fire well.

From there, several people were able to stomp out the remains of the fire.

I stood watching, landing back into myself as my intense heart beat began to normalize. I briefly connected with some of the folks who helped, exchanging appreciation and gratitude before they merged back into the night.

As the excitement ebbed, several people turned to me and said things like, “That was great!” And, “Thank you!”

One friend even said, “I saw what you were doing, and I saw that you had it all under control.” He shrugged as he continued, “No need for me to do anything.”

Even now, in hindsight, I am unsure. Was it necessary for me to take action? It certainly seemed like it. But if so, why was *I* the one to take action? Why was it my job or role to shift reality? Doesn’t *someone else* always have it “handled” or “all under control”?

When is it my responsibility to step forward and make things happen that wouldn’t have otherwise happened?

This is a huge question for me as a human, as a woman, as a leader, and as an advocate for vitality, intentional community and self-responsible relating.

I recently saw the author Marianne Williamson speak at a political fundraiser. One of the things she called forth was, as I recall her verbiage, “Awakened Citizenry.”

As in, the era of many of us not really paying attention to government – trusting that elected officials have our best interests at heart while we go about our daily business – must end now. Believing that someone else has “everything under control” or that, “We can’t make a difference” is a mistake.

In my opinion, the measure of whether existing systems of civilization and government are working successfully is in the happiness and well being of its citizens.

Looking around, I do not see a plethora of happiness or well being. I see rampant addiction to escapist behaviors. I see people running around to get “somewhere” and eternally dissatisfied because they have not “arrived.” I see obesity and dis ease taking over. Our food is ever decreasingly nutritious, and ever increasingly turned to as temporary balm for the hunger for real and deep interpersonal connections. Meaning. Community. Vitality. People being essentially happy with who they are. Without antidepressants. I am not damning antidepressants… I just believe there *must* be a better way to address widespread unhappiness.

I don’t know much about “politics” but, looking around, I do believe there is something deeply wrong.

Corporations have become the bodies, and the identities that are essentially running the planet. And I am clear they are living entities. Like a Chinese dragon has a person who is the head and tail and each part in between, they are composed by individuals who are integrated into the system. There is no denying that they are real. For many of us, our role is to feed the giants.

The problem is it seems like many don’t know how to have the best interest of the individuals at heart, or as a core organizational value.

As we human individuals look to finally support and create sustainable systems for our natural environment, my hope is that these stock exchange regulated titans also begin to take better care of their “cells” and “organs” – the people who comprise its systems.

And you, dear reader… Where in your life are you happy, or not? Where are you sacrificing your happiness, health, and well being to run circles on a hamster wheel? There is a certain amount of need to attract money for the purpose of living in this society… but is there a way that you see as available or possible to be self sustaining without sacrificing your most precious commodities of time, relationship, and happiness?

The world is on fire, and I am watching, balancing my weight from heels to toes and back, wondering what to do, and when to do it.

Does anyone else feel this way, or want to start creating new alternatives for what life can be?

Who’s with me?

What does this article bring up for you? What ideas or thoughts do you have? Write them in the comments section below!