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The Little Red Fire Extinguisher

St. Theresa of Avila reminds us: “you have but one soul to save, one God to serve, one Eternity to expect, Death will come soon, Judgement will follow, and then Heaven or Hell forever.” Buying and selling, cooking and cleaning, marrying and raising children—those things will always occupy us, but how we carry out these responsibilities with others ultimately matters. Ours is the great battle for eternity, against Satan and spawn, but no one fights alone.

The Little Red Fire Extinguisher

by Fr. Jonathan Atchley

In the corner of the house and under a black piano, rests a small, red fire extinguisher.

Stoutly, the solitary soldier stands poised as though awaiting orders, though he is sad and feels unappreciated.

"Of what use am I?" He sighs aloud to his closest neighbor, the grand piano. The piano picks out a jazzy chord to cheer her friend but does not know what else to say.

Down the hall, the vacuum cleaner inhales dust from a dark spot on the carpet, humming to himself. "It is too bad the extinguisher is in a slump. Though when I think about it, I've never seen him do anything but lean against the wall. If only he’d try to keep busy like me, maybe he’d feel better about himself."

From the dining room nearby, the crystal chandelier tinkles with a thousand shimmering lights: "I cannot imagine how boring--not to mention selfish--it is to live like that poor extinguisher, without making life brighter for others." Then, as politely as possible, she adds to herself: "I mean, like I try to do."

It seemed no one was able or willing to reassure, much less sympathize with the extinguisher’s miserable plight. And perhaps things would have continued just so, had not the unexpected come to pass…an old electrical wire under tension snapped, sending sparks every which way.

The household was at rest, unaware that a tiny flame began to flicker in the middle of the night. And with the flicker came a smell that warned of imminently pressing danger.

First to pick up the scent of burning, the vacuum cleaner roared into service, trying to alert the others, but in his panic only coughed out dirt and dust into the room with a frustrating sputter.

The chandelier shimmered to life, but the same short in the wiring quickly saw her blink out again. The house fell into an eerie darkness.

Mute with fear over the prospect that her glossy black paint would begin to peel, the piano failed to sound a note of danger.

Seconds flew by, filling the silent occupants with dread as the flames quickly take hold and electrical connections are severed. Dim yellow flames begin burn a bright orange, sending the trembling observers into shock. Computer, phone, radio, kitchen clock—one by one, all slip into unconscious slumber, just before an alarm is raised to warn the sleeping family.

A vigilant neighbor springs to his window and called at the top of his lungs, “Fire! Fire!” Voices multiply, and within minutes, men from a gleaming red truck run recklessly towards the house. One crashes through the front door showering wood fragments into the hungry blaze. Breathlessly, he races upstairs to seize a crying child and just as quickly runs back down and outside with the babe safely squealing in his arms.

The master appears from upstairs, carefully making his way into the smoke-filled family room, searching desperately for something small sitting in the corner. There! Near the piano, he snatches up a canister.

It is the extinguisher.

In a whoosh of spray, its mechanisms trigger valiantly to engage the flames. The fire roars to find itself at war. Jet streams flick in retaliation against the flames, like gladiators gone to battle. Tense moments pass; the extinguisher wonders whether it will be able to overcome such a formidable foe, but thinking how others depend on his success, something stirs deep inside him. This is a battle not just for himself but the household as well.

With renewed force and a confident voice, the extinguisher calls out valiantly with a final exhausting charge and sings sweetly to the darkening flames. His challenging song grows into a winning symphony as other men dressed in dingy yellow orchestrate to douse the house with water and hoses, buckets and blows. Almost as suddenly as it started, the fire dies.

Doors and windows open. Smoke begins to clear. The men leave. All is quiet.

The master steps into the room and attempts to switch the now useless chandelier on, then off.

A hand reaches out and unplugs a badly burned vacuum cleaner.

A handkerchief rubs clean a smudged spot on the oh-so-quiet piano.

The master sighs, then bends down to pick up an empty red canister. "Well, we were lucky to have you here, my friend!" He smiles fondly on the now-exhausted, little red extinguisher, reverently placing it back in the corner, whispering to himself as he leaves the room: "Yes, we were blessed to have you."

In silent awe, the little red fire extinguisher blushes with confusion over finding a sense of accomplishment and purpose.

"Now I know why I have waited here in the corner,” and adds, thoughtfully, "I am happy to stand vigilance again, in hopes that I may again be of use to my friends."

The little red fire extinguisher is content. He no longer feels sorrow but is grateful, not to prove the others wrong about him, but to be proved right about himself. At first slow to understand, it dawns on him: the most important thing you can share is yourself.

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