Take a a tiny bundle between your fingers, shred it from the container in which it sits. Fibres meld and break under touch, each somehow individual let only meaningful as part of the whole. Connected, yet not connected. The same yet different. As it rolls around manipulated between digits, it looks less like a crop of the earth and seems imbued with some new purpose beyond its means. What grew naturally has been nurtured, dried, treated and packaged into something specific, palatable only to some, attractive only to some.
To support its new role, roll it with paper which barely holds its integrity alone. Somewhat porous, somewhat flimsy, but adopted each time into which the bundle is nestled. The paper creases, glistens, reacts to your every touch and handles best with as little handling as possible. Creases are ironed out, shapes attempt to maintain integrity without really being built for it. It holds the mass of fibres, the mass gives strength to the papers.
Take a lone spark. A spark of many, but this one close enough, inflammatory enough to see a connect between the fibres, paper, air and an intake of breath… and it’s alight. As the edges of the paper catch and grow light, another intake of breath makes it glow, the first curl of smoke lifts up into eyesight and we become fascinated by the curl and the dance into the air we breathe.
As the wisp breaks, we breathe again, with purpose. Somehow we know that there are things inherently good in their form here. Somehow we know that this particular combination brings something new, something toxic. We know, in deeper thoughts, we consume something that has been added to, that is now more than the sum total of the elements and yet we breathe in. We watch the burning so close to our hands with eyes wide open. We taste the smoke, the air as they mix and we exhale to see what we do to the mini drama unraveling in front of us. We stoke the glowing embers and we draw in, good and bad, natural and unnatural.
There are filters too. Not everyone uses them. Not all filters are created equal. But they exist. They force the paper to hold some shape, no matter what skill level is applied to creating the roll. They create an integrity in the shape. They capture a mix of the intoxicating fumes of burning life so as we breathe, and so we breathe some not all. Now, to stoke the fire, we need to be proactive, choosing how and when to inhale. It means we can hold fire closer to our very fingertips and still study how it burns, what sides it’s biased towards today, where fibres cling so tightly that the flames find it harder to lick their way through.
We live in a society in which we know all that we consume, ingest, suggest is not healthy. We know it is all of this earth but somehow some of it has grown larger than. We know that some of it is spectacle, weaved into the fibre of society, inflammatory and self-serving. And we all inhale. And we watch, morbidly fascinated by the dance of smoke and fire, held together by papers. But as stories like Sydney’s, London, New York have unfolded, and the countless others that remain largely untold, we have a choice. We have a choice to breathe everything in and watch the flames lick around us freely, closer to our hands and mouths that keep us alive or we can filter.
We can filter and set up a distance, no matter how tiny, imbued with mindfulness and awareness. It can help us shape an idea of integrity, to hold stronger. We must breathe to stay alive but that doesn’t mean we have to accept everything that floats in the air around us.