Is there someplace where it is said, First the burning, then the shining? Maybe that place is only in my head, so I’ll go ahead and claim it as my own unoriginal thought. Viktor Frankl definitely said, “What is to give light must endure burning.”
I had it all. I mean I really had it all. And I burned it right to the ground. No regrets now but certainly not the case during that 10-year combustion phase.
Burning. My burning. It’s interesting in retrospect.
What is the all I had and consciously chose to burn? I was given the “keys to the kingdom,” as it were: all the knowledge — the literal knowing — of right versus wrong, good versus bad, purpose versus pleasure. I was handed the script for living (if you consider the accumulation of good marks while living being tallied toward the greater reward to be awarded after dying as living), told which part was mine and memorized my lines long before the director said I needed to be off-script. I’ve always been an overachiever like that.
The all I had was the idyllic description taken straight from the script — it was scripted perfection, honestly, and I never needed or asked for a line prompt; it’s as if I was born to play my part. Is that type-casting? (Something to look into.) I was a natural; the embodiment of method acting, I read all the books, answered all the questions, studied my mentors’ every moves, and demurred and deferred to every single man just on-cue. I said Yes when my body would have had me say No.
My relationship and relatedness to all the other players was strictly professional; I kept it that way intentionally and without realizing it. I could not break character for fear of being recast and replaced by someone else willing herself to perfection. I was perfectly obedient.
Until I wasn’t.
One line at a time, scribbled on and removed from the script, I set a little match. I never burned the entire script; it would have caused too big a flame, would have attracted too much attention. I would have been kicked out of the cast in front of everyone. That burning would have burned me, burned others close to me. I was never an inflictor of wounds, not knowingly. I chose to burn from the inside out instead. My wounds were my own to tend. But their infliction? Whose were those?
I recently read an account of the very young Judy Garland on the set of The Wizard of Oz and I understood how large a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio loomed above and around her in the real-life body of a Mr. Louis B. Mayer managing and controlling her every move, her very voice, touching all aspects of her performance as if it were for him, alone.
Personal performance notes I took to heart: “No man, when he hath lighted a candle, putteth it in a secret place, neither under a bushel, but on a candlestick, that they which come in may see the light” (Luke 13:11). And I understood I was meant to give light, not to hide it under a bushel or under a marquee not of my own making. I slow-burned my all to the ground because my on-demand rote performance wasn’t life or light-giving. First the burning, now the shining.
I’m taking my encore performance: I was burned to shine.