Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.
What happens when the fire goes out in a person? When the passion for something just shrivels up and dies, like a fire that has consumed every last bit of fuel?
I should back up and explain: this query was ‘sparked’ (sorry... awful pun) when I saw a comment in an article the other day referring to a specific person, which said she “remains a competent and dedicated individual, but the fire is out,” and it led me to ponder what that looks like, for either fictional characters, or real people. And why that happens. And what we can do about it. Because, frankly, it affects just about all of us at one time or another... relating to any one of a number of crucial things in our lives: relationships, career, creativity... life itself.
For story characters, it’s actually easy --- a helluva lot easier than it is for “real” people. (“Real” is often, I acknowledge, a very relative term, particularly among writers.) Why? Because story characters for whom the fire has gone out have to rekindle that flame, or we have no story. Sure, they may go through their own private hell rekindling it, but rekindle it they will. Must. Besides, it’s relatively easy to do that when you have a dragon singeing your britches. In our own mortal world, dragons are more often far more prosaic and less spectacular --- although just as dangerous.
We’ve all seen the passion fade, the light in the eye dim and go out. We all know what it looks like, and it ain’t pretty to watch, especially if the person for whom the fire goes out has a flair or gift in the area affected.
As to why it happens... well, that’s not particularly difficult. We (and our characters) are constantly being buffeted by the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Sometimes we weather the seismic shifts in our lives remarkably well. Other times, not so much, and events beat us down. As in any disaster, it’s usually not just one thing, but an entire chain of causality, dumping crisis upon crisis down on our heads until we buckle --- sometimes temporarily, sometimes --- tragically --- permanently.
And, of course, possibly the most important musing: what we can do about it. Well, to start with, as Andy Dufresne says in the film The Shawshank Redemption, “Get busy living, or get busy dying.” It’s okay to curl up in fetal position on the floor for a while and rail against the injustice of it all, but ultimately, that’s not going to solve anything. Eventually, you have to move on and get that fire going again. Or decide that the fire in question isn’t going anywhere, even with a blowtorch or thermite --- although that’s definitely the less preferable option, I think. Because if the fire was worthwhile to begin with, it remains worthwhile.
The reason why the poem from The Lord of the Rings is there at the beginning of this post (other than my obligatory Tolkien reference) is that Tolkien offers us hope, too, when he says “the old that is strong does not wither/deep roots are not reached by the frost” and that “from the ashes, a fire shall be woken.” That is to say, for most of us, there’s more resiliency and strength to us than we are often willing to acknowledge.
You can find a match. Or generate a spark. And get that fire burning again. So what are you waiting for? It’s cold out here, and you’re beginning to shiver.