Earth is the only planet in our solar system to contain fire. Lightning strikes somewhere along its surface about a hundred times every second, and I’m tired of being struck by it. I’ve had enough of romances that ignite with a flash only to burn out quickly and disappear in the sky.

Fire is both a menace and a necessity. It can be unpredictable, it can be undiscriminating, it can be unkind, but without exception, fire transforms what it touches. It seems like the trick is to get a good fire going, and then keep it going… without it going out of control.

That’s quite a delicate trick—one I have yet to master.

I have spent years seeking the comfort of warmth, but unfortunately I don’t yet know how to keep from getting burned. So I have begun to research the history of fire on our planet in the hope that it might teach me something about myself. And men. And God. And love. And war. I wonder, for instance, how it is that we humans are, like fire, simultaneously the most constructive force on the planet and the most destructive. And I wonder how to make peace with this duality: what to let burn and what to keep from burning.

Apparently it wasn’t until humans learned to control fire and harness its energy that civilization began to make significant progress. Control the fire. Harness the energy. I, too, am trying to make progress. But being a woman is hard. Somehow I inherently knew it would be because even as a child, I fought it off with every passing year. Tomboys are encouraged and celebrated in childhood, and I didn’t want to let go of mine.

My father didn’t help the process. When I was nine, he called me to come in from the river after a long day of swimming. I curled up into his lap, cold and shivering, and he tugged at the front of my one-piece bathing suit. “You’re getting bumples,” he said.

I drew the towel around me to barricade his unwelcome eyes from my developing breasts, and he laughed. It was a menacing laugh that burned into me and left an impression so deep that now, decades later, I still hate him for it.

Despite my distress, I continued to develop all the outward signs of being a woman, and those things gained the attentions of men. I don’t recall the exact moment I decided to use them, these womanly pieces of myself, but use them I did. Eventually. Since then I am reluctant to count the lovers I’ve had; I can only confess that I did not see a year with any of them. Now, in retrospect, it seems to me that I attract men because of my intellect, my wit, my independence, and my fiery world perspective. Then I drive them away with my intellect, my wit, my independence, and my fiery world perspective. In the midst of those two events, I have offered up my body as a sacrifice: like me for how I seduce you rather than for who I am.

Following each break up, it would generally take at least a year for the tears to stop and for me to take back possession of my Self. But Marc has helped me set a New World Record: six months. Marc is the one who told me he didn’t want a relationship that consumed him as much as ours did. He said that he thought about me too much, that I was interrupting his work and his sleep and his ability to function productively. Six months later I received a postcard in the mail with a beautiful woman lifting herself out of the pool, all breast and teeth. On the back of the card in Marc’s messy scrawl was written, “Meet my new wife.”

Control the fire. Harness the energy.

The truth is, I’m disappointed in men. It seems to me that my most nourishing moments of communication and love and partnership and intimacy have not been with men but with women. One woman in particular. If it’s true that our friends mirror aspects of ourselves, then I am not at all who I think I am. I’m better.

Lauren is the kind of woman I hated on sight for being everything I am not: gorgeous, elegant, sexy, and every inch of her graced with a femininity that overwhelms a room. Maybe we became friends because I wanted to be just like her. When we first met, I would sit next to her and study her clothing, the way she moved, how she used her hands in conversation. The trouble was that sitting next to her only highlighted my inadequacies at being a woman. Thankfully, it didn’t impact our friendship. Now, more than ten years into it, Lauren has become the embodiment of the divine feminine, and in moments of indecision I ask myself, What would Lauren do? It’s become such an overriding mantra that I want to wear its symbol as a proclamation, a red woven bracelet with the letters WWLD in white.

Over the six months that I had grieved the loss of Marc, Lauren never once lost patience with me. She never rolled her eyes at my incessant flood of tears and the nonsensical spinning of my thoughts. She never let a phone call go unreturned. And she never judged how slowly and clumsily I pulled myself back together. When Marc’s postcard arrived, I sent out the signal flare once again and phoned her immediately. I crammed the glossy postcard into my purse and rocketed over to our favorite Santa Monica restaurant, the 17th Street Café. The waitress showed us to our regular table near the wall, and as I pulled out my chair, I announced, “I’m not crying in here tonight.”

I didn’t make it a habit of crying in restaurants but as a result of Marc I had shed tears in uncomfortably public places.

“Is that a new shirt?” she asked.

“Yeah. I was looking for something for my brother’s birthday. This was in the sales rack, and you know how I love a nice, big, sloppy men’s shirt to hide behind.” I was swimming in the thing, all the while taking note of how Lauren’s top accentuated her shape.

“It’s a good color for you,” she said.

“I thought so, too. I’m just a little concerned that if I ever go out again, I may show up wearing better men’s clothing than my date.” And with that, I burst into tears. I sat there at the table near the wall and I cried.

Lauren smiled and touched my arm. “You are so beautiful when you cry.”

I rolled my eyes, self-conscious. “I hope everyone else in here thinks so, too.”

“No one’s even noticing.”

I wanted to blow my nose but the napkins were cloth. “Oh God, I hate this. I hate him!” I pulled out the damn postcard. “This! This is what he married?! And here’s the best part: I’m still fantasizing about getting back together because I don’t believe it. Here it is, this is his handwriting, and I don’t believe it for a second.” I let out a heavy, audible breath. “How can all these opposite thoughts exist at the same time? Yesterday I was totally over him, and today I want to have his children.”

With no more fuel for my tirade, I wilted into the chair, shoulders stooped, hands limp, head hanging lifeless. “I’m pathetic. I pretend I’m such a strong person but I have no control over my emotions.”

Lauren took a long drink of water and set the glass down carefully. Drops of condensation raced for the tablecloth. “I used to have a button that said, ‘It comes from tolerating contradictions.’” She let that take root a moment before continuing. “It’s head-spinning allowing two emotional extremes to sit next to each other. But I have to believe that one is serving the other. We can’t accept only the light and turn away from the darkness. We don’t get to say, ‘I’m not going to be like this.’ Because it won’t go away.”

She moved her glass to the side of the table and smoothed the water-ringed cloth underneath it. “And so the only choice is to sit here and feel all the chaos, all the confusion, and all the contradictions.” Her fingers tapped out each beat. “Maybe if we give ourselves permission to be all these things at once, then we’re more available to be fully conscious.”

I watched her palms turn upward, cupped into a receptive bowl, a womb. Still, I bit my lip and shook my head. “You know, at a certain point, all this spiritual ideology is just bullshit. Look, I’d love to be able to get totally one with God, and be in a state of divine peace all the time. But God doesn’t curl up with me at night. I’ve already heard it all. My pain comes from the fact that I’m resisting this. If I could just accept it, I wouldn’t hurt so much. Well, I don’t really want to be a meditating monk on the mountaintop. So the question is: do I want God or do I want Marc? And today, as ludicrous as this clearly is, I want the guy.” I swallowed hard. “And being unable to stop makes me feel so ashamed.”

Lauren’s warm eyes embraced me. “How could loving someone to the degree that you love Marc ever make you feel ashamed?”

I wiped my face on the napkin and stared at the surrounding tables, all of them filled with people who were engaged in their own lives and not noticing the pain in mine. I couldn’t meet Lauren’s eyes. “Because loving someone this stupid makes me feel needy and pathetic.”

“And so closing your heart and being invulnerable makes you feel strong?”

I finally looked at her. I knew what she was getting at but wisdom goes out the window when your heart is broken. “Yes,” I said. “Strength to me feels like I ought to be able to shut it all off. Being so vulnerable, it makes me feel powerless and out of control. And I don’t like it.” I scraped my tears off on the sleeve of my new shirt. “I don’t think I know who I am anymore. Talk about contradictions, I’ve got these two sides that don’t link up at all. There’s the confident, aggressive, masculine part of myself—and you know what? The truth is, I’ve always felt so much more comfortable there, being a boy, wearing boy’s clothes, and conquering the world. Because what’s the girl in me doing? She’s bleeding emotionally all over the place, and I can’t believe I haven’t stopped yet. It’s embarrassing. Wanting to be desired makes me feel weak and stupid.”

Lauren smiled. “Oh, sweetheart, don’t you see? It’s not that you’re not feminine, it’s that you don’t ever honor your femininity.”

My chest began to burn with an overwhelming shame. I dropped my head and covered my face.

“I don’t care if you were a tomboy when you were a kid,” she continued. “I don’t care how you dress or that you’re good at sports or that you wear comfortable shoes. The truth is: your emotional process and everything else about you is inherently feminine. And you’ve been protecting it so ferociously for so long that you don’t even know it’s there.”

My body heaved as I tried desperately to catch my breath. I kept taking in air but couldn’t get it to go back out.

My God, could she be right? How could I have never known this?

I don’t think I realized until just that moment how much I had resented and rejected everything feminine about myself. In fact, if she was right, I had been ignoring my very essence. Suddenly it seemed clear that in order to feel truly whole it would be necessary to reconcile my internal fragments. The boy in me would have to make room for the girl, and the girl would have to finally claim her space.

Lauren reached over and touched my cheek. I couldn’t bear to meet her beautiful, loving eyes. “And I know, with every cell in my body,” she said softly, “that some day very soon you’re going to be attracted to a man who wants to protect you and cherish you and make love to you instead of diminish you.”

I keep going back to this moment in my mind, running it over and over like a cherished, classic movie. I don’t have home movies of my childhood. If I did, for the first one, instead of seeing myself as a bruised and bloodied infant being pulled from my mother’s womb, I would see Lauren’s hands, cupped, holding this new seed of me at the moment of my rebirth.

The day will come when after harnessing the ether, the winds, the tides, and gravitation, we shall harness for God the energies of love. And on that day for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire. – Pierre Teilhard de Chardin