Finally, I’ve done it.

It certainly took long enough, but I guess better late than never.  This is something that everyone must do … or die in chains.

For me, it started with an Independence Day Weekend invitation.  My new friend Karen invited me and a bunch of other folks to her house, more specifically, her backyard for a party.  Her small ranch house sits on a woodsy, roughly one-acre lot, with lots of old, towering trees, so she’s got the space.

Of course, this was a pitch-in where everyone was expected to bring some sort of food and drink while Karen would do most of the party-prep. And still, this pitch-in required a little something extra.  Karen wanted us to bring along some personal baggage…

“If you desire, you may bring whatever you want to rid your life of…” she said in the invitation email.  “… You can literally bring whatever item represents said thing and burn it to a crisp!  Let’s get rid of all negativity and old, useless baggage from our lives!”

Needless to say, I wasn’t going to miss this party.


It was a free-form, organic, come-as-you-are, super-casual affair.  As I arrived with my inconsequential turkey wraps, I was greeted by Karen and later, her gray, Australian something or other dog named Murphy.  Murphy had a bandana around his neck and was ready to rock.  Totally cool rescue dog.  Most rescue dogs are.

“Oh my God!  I love all of these huge trees,” I said as I walked up Karen’s driveway.

“Wait until you see the back!” Karen responded.


We’re sitting out back around the fantastic bonfire where Karen’s longtime friend Kevin hauls out her old Christmas tree which was obviously as dry as the Sahara because it shot up in flames like a shooting star the instant he put it on the fire.  We all felt the heat immediately and had to take a few steps back for dear life.  As our eyes were drawn upward, the flames and plumes of smoke shot toward heaven and fanned out to embrace the divine night sky as a few of us … oohed and aahed.

Karen’s friends are a bohemian bunch.  Singers, actors, directors, you know, creative folks who have few inhibitions, especially when the tequila kicks in.

At this point, Karen called for us to throw caution to the fire which I did.  I’d brought with me an old, multi-pronged, spooky-looking tree branch from my backyard.  Funny, because earlier in the day, I had decided that I was going to pull it out of the ground with as much muscle as I could muster.  So, I walked up to it, squat down, and when I pulled it upward, it almost went flying into the air.  I was about as light as an aluminum lawn chair.

As I threw that old branch into the fire, I knew it represented a few skeletons for me.  That branch symbolized all of the ridiculous things from the past that I had been holding onto … anger about this or that, frustration about plans that didn’t come together, resentment about broken promises, concerns about how I believed others may perceive me, worry about the lack of this or that, you know … all of the negative, self-talk that constantly runs through our heads.  In short … bullcrap.

At some point in your life, you’ve got to declare your independence from all of that.  But how do you do it?  Simple.  You uproot all of the misery, hold a ceremony and set it ablaze.  Finally, you’re free.

As that crazy branch burned, one of the ladies said, “Hey, I can see an evil face in that branch!  There are the eyes and the nose and the mouth!”

Sure enough, I could see it too.  That’s how bonfires work.  They burn up all of the crazy mess that you finally decided to let go.  Perhaps the apparent vision of a face is their way of saying “Fuck You!” for throwing them into the scrap pile … or maybe it was the tequila kicking in, but I didn’t have any.  Hmm.

It was almost as if that branch heard us talking about it because as we chatted, it rolled down from atop the burn pile where it sat on the ground, red hot, with its final fate sealed forever.

You know, deciding what to do with all of the nonsense of the past is the hard part, but uprooting and burning it?  That’s cake.  Our burdens instantly become lighter when we start to shake them off. 

It takes a long time to ditch your personal baggage, but once you let it go, it no longer owns you.  You’ve finally taken action and exorcized it.  Only you can do it.  Finally, you’re free.  Better late than never.

As my once captive past burned, we all sang silly, pop songs, told lame jokes and stories about grown kids, ate tacos, toasted marshmallows and drank whatever.  It was a calm, lovely night amid the bonfire and towering trees of Karen’s backyard.  As we reveled, Murphy wandered about, keeping watch for what likely lurked in the deep, dark woods behind us.

There’s nothing like food and silliness amid nature and world weary adults.  But when you light a fire beneath the revelry and burn up whatever has been holding you back … well … that’s a blast.

Everyone should have a bonfire.  I’m calling this one a bonfire of independence.  Why not?  It was time.  Once you decide to let go, you’re free.



                                 "Bonfire of Independence" Photo By: Karen Cheek

Bonfire of Independence



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