She was on fire.
Not literally, but the words that she said and the way she said them scorched me in surprise.
We were sitting outside her balcony, the night breeze ruffling our skirts, the pale moon casting shadows where we sat. Our parents’ conversation wafted towards us from inside, punctuated by bursts of laughter and the occasional shrill word let loose by too much wine.
It was the second day of the Lunar New Year, and we were visiting the house of my mother’s good friend.
I was talking to her daughter, an arts student four years my junior. She possessed a megawatt smile in braces and an easy, carefree laugh that reminded me of a twinkling piano or a dancing wind-chime. She had just returned home from school, still wearing a smudge of eyeliner and blush from her day, carrying a monstrously large knapsack shaped like the head of a white tiger.
She told me about her blog, in which she touched on social justice, feminism and LGBTQA rights.
During our half-hour conversation, her eyes positively burned as she spoke about the dominance of the patriarchal discourse, the concept of virginity (“it’s just a social construct!”), and the apathy of youths around us, oblivious to the multitude of social forces that impact our lives in so many subtle but significant ways. I had the feeling that if she could, she would’ve grabbed a megaphone to shout to the world, “Look at what’s happening around you, you idiots!” Well, I was her audience of one, and I was listening.
I was in awe that she had such strong opinions at her age and how strongly she wanted to make a difference through her blog.
“I really respect you for what you’re doing,” I said.
“But I’m not really doing anything–I’m just bringing these issues up. I mean, I don’t consider myself an activist, because an activist actually acts.
“I’m just really angry about the way things are,” she said.
And so it was. It was her anger that erupted to overflow words onto her blog, and which set her whole persona alight as I listened to her. I felt like a moth being drawn to a flame, her anger igniting a sort of vivacity and vitality that spread outwards from her being, and which made her appear older and wiser than her 18 years.
What she said stuck with me, long after I left her place. What am I angry about? What am I on fire for? What makes me want to wring my hands, to shed a light on, to open people’s eyes to?
There are certainly issues that I care about and that I’m particularly inclined towards, from the plight of migrant workers and asylum seekers, to ethical consumerism and excessive consumption. But what have I done except to read about them with interest, perking up whenever something pops up on the news?
At least I’m aware of these things happening, a part of me tries to comfort myself.
But that’s not really enough, is it?
I’m writing this because I’m more than a little perturbed. I’m all shaken up by this girl on fire. She cares, when so many of us don’t. We don’t for some very legitimate reasons, others not so much–we don’t care because we’re not aware, we don’t care because we’re lazy, and we don’t care because we only have finite time and energy to care about the few things that truly set us ablaze.
What sets me on fire?
What sets you on fire?