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I stepped out of grief -- by dancing with fire

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    When I was six years old,
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    our house caught fire,
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    and my mother died.
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    It was a cold February night in Michigan.
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    Our chimney had recently been fixed,
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    so we had a warm fire going
    in the fireplace.
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    My younger sister and I
    were sitting next to our dog
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    and coloring with a brand-new box
    of colored pencils,
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    when Mom said it was time for bed.
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    We'd planned to go up north that night
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    for a weekend of
    snowmobiling and sledding,
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    but it was already dark
    and snowing outside,
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    so we decided to leave
    the next morning instead.
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    We went upstairs, brushed our teeth,
    climbed into bed,
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    my sister's room right next to the stairs,
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    and mine at the far end of the hallway.
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    Our parents tucked us in
    and kissed us good night
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    then left the door open just a crack,
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    and the hallway light on,
    as it always was.
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    In the middle of the night,
    I woke up sweating,
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    confused because I couldn't see
    that hallway light.
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    I started shouting for my parents
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    until finally, I heard words
    that I'll never forget:
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    "Dave, it's a fire!"
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    We later found out
    that our fire from earlier
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    had burned through an unrepaired
    crack in the chimney,
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    causing the fireplace doors to explode
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    and fire to just pour into
    the living room.
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    I remember my mom running down
    to my sister's room,
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    frantically searching for her
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    and finally finding her on the floor.
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    I crawled after her on my hands and knees,
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    trying not to breathe in the smoke.
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    I remember standing
    next to my sister's room,
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    trying to turn on that hallway light,
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    but it was already on;
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    I just couldn't see it because
    the smoke was so thick.
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    I remember feeling
    the heat of the fire on my skin
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    and hearing the sound of it
    as it climbed up the stairs.
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    My dad ran down to my bedroom window
    as an escape route,
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    but it was February,
    and it was frozen shut.
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    Eventually, he broke the window
    and pried it open,
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    his arms and hands covered
    in glass and cuts.
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    He lifted my sister and me
    onto an awning under the window
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    and told us to shout for help.
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    Not seeing my mom,
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    he considered going back
    into the fire to find her,
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    but after looking at my sister and me
    huddled together on that roof
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    and knowing that neither of them
    may make it out,
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    he stayed with us,
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    calling her name
    through the window instead.
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    After a few minutes,
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    a man driving down the street
    saw the smoke and fire,
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    drove onto our lawn,
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    climbed onto the roof of his car
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    and told us to jump into his arms.
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    We'd never seen him before,
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    and even though he saved our lives,
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    we never saw him again.
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    We were brought over to a neighbor's house
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    while Dad continued to wait
    on the roof for my mom,
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    reaching his arms and hands
    through the window
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    and into the fire,
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    calling her name over and over.
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    He said later that when
    the fire department arrived,
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    they carried him down the ladder
    just as a lower-level window shattered
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    and burst into flames.
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    It took the fire department
    longer to find my mom.
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    She'd been on the floor
    of my bedroom the entire time,
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    pinned down by a dresser
    that had fallen on her leg.
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    We think she went back
    to look for our dog,
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    but by the time the fire department
    reached them it was too late.
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    She died on the way to the hospital.
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    Dad was in critical condition,
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    with smoke inhalation and burns
    and cuts over a third of his body.
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    He spent nearly a month in the hospital,
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    unable to attend Mom's funeral
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    and undergoing multiple,
    excruciating skin graft surgeries.
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    My sister and I stayed
    with a neighbor across the street,
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    but we would sit in front
    of their living room window for hours,
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    just staring at the remains
    of our burnt home.
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    After a few days, it became evident
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    that we would need to go and stay
    with some different family friends.
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    The next few years were tough.
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    As a single father of two young girls,
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    Dad did his very best to provide for us
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    as we all tried to grieve and recover.
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    We began to move on in this new reality.
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    Dad bought a new house down the street,
    without a fireplace,
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    and eventually remarried.
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    My sister and I excelled in school.
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    I was a cheerleader,
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    and she rode horses
    and played in the band.
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    But nothing could stop the gut-wrenching
    nightmares that haunted me.
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    I would dream of fire,
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    of being trapped in fire with no escape.
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    I remember, and even now I can feel,
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    the sheer panic
    and the pressure in my chest.
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    Or worse were the dreams where
    I was outside the fire watching it,
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    trying to save the people inside.
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    I'd wake up gasping for breath,
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    tears running down my face and sobbing.
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    When I was 15,
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    a friend of mine
    and a very talented artist,
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    painted two abstract portraits for me.
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    One was done in black and white
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    and depicted a scared girl
    cowering in the corner of a room,
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    shadows surrounding her.
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    The other was a bursting rainbow of color;
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    the girl was in the center of the page,
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    arms open and outstretched,
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    clearly full of joy and happiness.
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    He knew my past,
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    and he knew that I was
    conflicted and confused,
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    but he had also seen my potential
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    and wanted to show me what he already saw.
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    After a few years,
    I realized that these two portraits
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    showed two completely different
    paths before me:
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    a life of fear
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    or the promise and potential for recovery.
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    I had always been drawn
    to that brighter, more colorful painting,
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    but I wasn't quite sure
    what it meant for me
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    or how to transform my current mentality
    into that kind of joy and happiness.
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    So outwardly, I moved on with life --
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    graduated high school, went to college --
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    while inwardly,
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    I continued to bounce between
    the highest of highs
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    and the lowest of lows,
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    like a Ping-Pong ball
    between those two portraits.
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    In 2004, I went backpacking
    through Central America with a friend.
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    We spent our first week
    on the island of Roatán,
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    off the coast of Honduras.
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    After a few days there,
    my friend and I realized
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    that one of our new local friends
    was a fire dancer.
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    Neither of us had ever seen
    fire dancing before,
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    so one night, we decided to go see a show.
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    We watched, mesmerized,
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    as he and two friends
    lit these props on fire,
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    threw them in the air
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    and spun them around their bodies.
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    Their moves were
    deliberate and controlled,
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    yet still graceful
    and flowing to the music.
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    I was completely entranced.
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    The next day, he offered to teach us
    how to fire dance, or "spin" --
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    without fire, of course.
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    He showed us the difference
    between a fire staff,
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    which is a long piece of wood
    or aluminum with two Kevlar wicks,
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    and fire poi, which are Kevlar wicks
    with chains and finger loops.
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    After that first time spinning poi,
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    I knew that this was a hobby
    that I wanted to continue learning
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    in the hopes that maybe one day,
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    I might be brave enough
    to try it with fire.
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    Now, I can guess what
    people might be thinking:
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    How was I not terrified
    and running in the opposite direction?
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    And honestly, I don't know.
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    I think that perhaps being a cheerleader
    and doing gymnastics and piano
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    while growing up,
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    these activities were
    very structured and prescribed,
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    whereas this type of flow art
    seemed like a form of meditation
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    but with a focus on fire,
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    this thing that scared me
    so deeply for my entire life.
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    After that first time practicing,
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    my friend and I cobbled together
    our own sets of homemade poi
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    using socks, shoelaces and tennis balls.
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    We did not light shoelaces
    and socks on fire,
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    we just used it for the practice part.
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    But after returning home to Michigan,
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    we decided to buy
    our own sets of actual fire poi.
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    And after a few months,
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    we decided that we were ready
    to light them on fire.
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    We bundled up in cotton layers,
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    got a fire extinguisher,
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    wet a towel for safety,
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    prepared our fuel,
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    gave each other a very energetic
    pep talk and high five
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    and lit those poi on fire.
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    It was terrifying.
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    Half of my brain was freaking out
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    and thinking, "OK, wait --
    maybe we need to think about this.
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    We should probably stop."
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    The sound of the fire
    as it whooshed by my head
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    was incredibly loud
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    and brought me right back to my childhood.
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    But it was also incredibly exhilarating.
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    The other half of my brain,
    the creative half, was thinking,
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    "I can't believe it! I'm a fire dancer."
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    For anyone who spins,
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    there's a level of adrenaline
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    or that rush of fire dancing.
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    But as someone whose life
    had been so greatly impacted by fire,
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    I also felt an immense sense
    of empowerment
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    at being able to control
    and manipulate fire.
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    I made a conscious decision
    to step out of my grief.
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    It was not easy.
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    There's a Nirvana lyric that says
    "I miss the comfort of being sad,"
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    and that was exactly it.
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    I was in control of my sadness.
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    I knew what it would bring to me,
    and I knew what to expect,
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    but I also knew deep down that eventually,
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    I had to do that really hard work
    of trying to heal from my past.
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    So I kept practicing.
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    I took a plastic grocery bag,
    cut it into strips,
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    tied it to the ends of those poi
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    and used it to replicate the sound
    of the fire as it went past my head.
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    And I kept lighting the poi on fire.
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    At some point, something shifted.
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    My perspective on fire dancing changed
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    from something that I was
    apprehensive about
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    to something that brought me
    a sort of peace.
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    Without realizing it,
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    I had initiated my own form
    of exposure therapy,
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    an actual type of psychotherapy
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    where you deliberately expose yourself
    to things that have caused you trauma
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    or scare you.
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    I'd exposed myself to fire
    in this very unique way
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    and had transformed what it meant to me.
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    My nightmares slowed down
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    and now, years later,
    have stopped almost completely.
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    I started fire dancing not just for myself
    but at events and performances.
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    I started a fire troop with friends
    while living in Dubai,
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    created beautiful art with my sister
    who became a photographer,
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    taught children how to spin
    at birthday parties,
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    performed onstage and at festivals
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    and even taught my own children
    the basics of spinning.
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    And that's not to say
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    that I don't still have
    an apprehension to fire in general.
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    I can practice a move a million times,
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    but then when I try it with fire,
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    I feel that familiar panic
    and tightening in my chest.
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    I'm still apprehensive about living
    in a two-story house
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    or having a fireplace.
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    Every night before I go to sleep,
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    I clear a path between
    my kids' bedroom doors,
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    our bedroom door
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    and all the exit doors,
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    in case we need to leave quickly.
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    And it's taken me a long time
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    to get on board with the idea
    of closing bedroom doors at night
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    to slow down a fire,
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    because I'd always thought if I closed
    my kids' bedroom doors,
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    I might not be able to hear them
    like my mom heard me.
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    And of course, this is my story.
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    I can't say that I have the answer
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    for someone with a different
    kind of trauma.
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    If the situation had been reversed,
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    and I'd lost a child in a fire,
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    I'm not sure that fire dancing
    would be the answer,
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    or if I'd even have the capacity
    to get near fire again.
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    But what I can say from my own experience
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    is that after experiencing
    a trauma or hardship,
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    you have a choice between two paths.
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    One path will lead you to a life of fear
    and cowering in the darkness,
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    like that black-and-white painting
    I described earlier.
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    You might move on with life,
    but at the same time,
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    you're still clinging to that sadness
    that brings you comfort.
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    The other path, stepping out of grief,
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    will not change or undo anything.
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    It will be hard.
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    It will always be hard,
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    with high mountains
    and deep, dark valleys.
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    But this path looks forward
    and moves forward.
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    When I learned to dance with fire,
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    I learned to reconcile
    the traumatic part of my life
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    with the totality of my life
    as it was still unfolding.
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    Fire became more than just trauma
  • 12:29 - 12:31
    but beauty and art as well,
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    everything, all at once, just like life,
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    flickering and smoldering
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    and burning and dazzling,
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    and somehow, in the middle of it,
    finding a way to dance ...
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    me.
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    Thank you.
Títol:
I stepped out of grief -- by dancing with fire
Speaker:
Danielle Torley
Descripció:

After losing her mother in a house fire when she was just six years old, Danielle Torley saw two paths before her: a life full of fear, or one that promised healing and recovery. In this inspiring talk, she describes how she turned her grief into beauty in a most unexpected way -- by dancing with fire.

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Video Language:
English
Team:
TED
Projecte:
TEDTalks
Duration:
13:02

English subtitles

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