Carry the Fire

“You have to carry the fire.
I don’t know how to.
Yes you do.
Is it real? The fire?
Yes it is.
Where is it? I don’t know where it is.
Yes you do. It’s inside you. It was always there. I can see it.”
-Cormac McCarthy, The Road

I’m sitting next to a woman who shouldn’t be here. Always bedside, never bed-in. Always the caregiver, never the patient. It’s a turn of the tables that goes beyond cruelty.

And now she’s something else that I can’t type without breaking down: a broken widow. Ribs, arms, fingers, wrists, collarbone, heart. And of course, she doesn’t deserve any of this or the potential weeks of physical therapy to come. She spent more than a decade dedicating her life to the care of my grandfather. She built up enough good karma for 100 lifetimes, even though she couldn’t be as free as most others – a perfect catch-22.

After my grandfather passed a few years ago, her husband (my stepfather) helped her through the tragedy and revealed a side to her that I had never seen before. She was adventuring out of town on the back of his motorcycle, socializing with likeminded adults and having genuine fun on a regular basis.

I never thanked him for that.

The day started innocently enough, surprise, surprise.

I played a round of disc golf, ate a leftover taco and got out the caulking gun for some fun housework. Before I headed outside, my phone rang from a number I didn’t recognize. It was a weekend, so I thought it had to be spam. They left a message though. He had a thick accent, and I made out the words “accident” and “hospital.” I didn’t recognize the name he mentioned, so thank goodness I played the message again. He used my mother’s full name, which is why I was thrown off. She was in a wreck and in a hospital in Wichita.

What followed was a series of black and godless events that no writer can put into words, nor do I want to. Tragedies occur every day, but this one had a violent intimacy – as if we all piled into a small box one by one without knowing that the walls were about to crush us.

Fast forward 24 hours, and I’m sitting with my mother’s phone in my lap, giving updates on her behalf to countless family members and friends. I had to put her phone on silent because it was vibrating incessantly. The status bar can’t fit all of the notifications.  I peek at some of the comments and it helps not feel so alone. She wakes and asks for her phone and reads your well-wishes and memories, reacting just as I am – with overwhelming joy and gratitude.

I don’t engage much on social media these days, so to see people comment the way they did was more than I deserve. If I missed something you went through, I’m so sorry and please know that I would help you any way you needed.

I wish I knew how my family was really handling things, especially my siblings. A text of “I’m doing alright” can only say so much. Even so, I wish I knew how I could help them because I found a method that saved my sanity.

I know of one person’s true mental state, and that is my own. I am now at my emotional limits – my two-and-a-half hour car ride home alone could tell you that. I have active thoughts that play out past, present and future while cycling through different variables. This is on top of all the oversensitive empathetic role-playing with which I torture myself.

But when I cycle back through to my actual pain, I want people to know that I will be fine. Not today, but someday. Literature, for all its beauty and wisdom, gave me something I needed more than anything this weekend: a safeguard.

I read The Road by Cormac McCarthy a few years ago, a post-apocalyptic trudge of despair. The line above left a great impression on me, and I adapted it to my life as such: When someone you love dies, the best you can do is pick up their torch and carry the fire – let their shining essence live on through you.

My mentality of carrying the fire is drone-like, similar to ants building an anthill. I pummel myself with those words when I plunge into despair, replacing the pain with duty. Carry the fire. Carry the fire. We’ve got this, Brian. Carry the fire.

It’s not perfect, I still bend, but it helps.

I will be fine. Maybe not tonight. But I do hope that my siblings can find a way to do the same. We are all in this together – several runners sharing one torch.

Carry the fire.

I’ve thought about how I will try to carry the fire in Brian’s memory. This hurts so much to think about, but he was a great man and this is the best way I know how to honor him.

Having grown up with a core family of four and then three, you gave us 20-plus more. Your family values were something so admirable, I don’t know if I can match it. But I will at the very least be present or available to any Rauter who will have me.

You never said a bad thing about our house and your expertise helped revive my lawn. I will have the best lawn on the block, you’ll see.

At my wedding, you shook your head and said to me, “You’re something else,” after my vows broke open every tear duct in the church. I will continue to be something else – that’s an easy one.

You always took TV suggestions and I hardly gave any, as I do not watch much. But you never believed me about One Punch Man. I’ll have to re-watch it, because I know I was right on that one.

You brought Jimmy, the first dog I ever loved, into my life. I’ll take care of him for the time being.

I cannot pull off the horseshoe mustache. Few can. Or the mullet, for that matter.

I will eat the tomatoes you would have picked off your salad or sent back to the kitchen.

And as for the woman sitting next to me, she really shouldn’t be here, but we’ll make sure she gets back home. Then we have to give her the love and happiness she deserves for the rest of her life – the very same you gave her these short but amazing eight years. I might need some help, but I know together we can carry your fire.

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