I recently bought for my chilly basement a heater that’s meant to imitate a fireplace. At this it fails miserably.
Nonetheless, I love the earnestness of its inauthenticity: the fake logs perpetually burning but never consumed, the unnatural orange glow of the fake embers, the mesmerizing pattern of the fake flames. The unapologetic falseness of the whole thing makes a bold statement: I am what I am, and you can love me or not.
It is true that I have a thing for kitsch, and that my faux fireplace speaks powerfully to that affection, and also to my arguably perverse sense of humor: On a recent idle evening, I sat in front of the heater, considering what small figurines I might purchase at the local dollar store to create a wildfire diorama — woodland creatures fleeing, Bambi-style, for their lives — or, better yet, an apocalyptic city skyline from which little people run in terror. This is how my mind works.
It was a passing fancy, though, because I am too genuinely fond of the fireplace to mock it so coarsely. There’s something dear about it, in part because it brings to mind an all-you-can-eat restaurant my family frequented in the early ’70s, when the appetite of my soon-to-be-6-foot-5 brother made that promise a bargain for my budget-conscious parents. The smorgasbord was called Viking Village — this was in Minnesota — and apart from the brightly lit stainless steel pans of steaming food in the serving line, it exuded a velvety darkness. The only other illumination came from a large electric fireplace, the patently fake, gigantic ancestor to my own.
I thought of Viking Village a few days ago, during what has become a favorite morning ritual as the days grow colder: Pour a cup of coffee and head downstairs in the predawn dark, turn on the fireplace, adjust the temperature settings and settle in, cat on lap, for a properly peaceful and warm awakening. It’s a good time to think and not to think, to be still.
I bought the fireplace on Amazon after my usual overdone research, and realized from buyer reviews that it might be a pig in a poke. A sizeable majority were complimentary, but a significant minority carped about this or that: it didn’t heat as well as advertised, the remote control didn’t work reliably, the fan was too noisy. (Amazon reviews are mostly helpful, and occasionally funny: A number of customers complained that the fireplace is “smaller than (I) thought,” as if their vague assumptions ought to trump the exact dimensions provided in the product description. People. )
But reviewers were of a single mind about the heater’s aesthetics: The flames, they said, were “realistic.”
This might mean that they’ve never been around an actual fire; it’s possible, in this day and age. Because a real fire looks like this:
More likely, the reviewers meant that the flames look real for being fake. Which they do:
All of which brings me to the point of this post, which I have been regrettably slow to make: I appreciate my little fake fireplace for being perfectly itself. Had I expected it to equal the real McCoy, I would have been sorely disappointed. I might have kvetched quietly to myself, perhaps even complained out loud to Amazon, or the manufacturer. “You call that ‘realistic?!’ ” I might have snorted, all righteous indignation. “Ha!”
But I have not snorted, nor kvetched, nor even quietly made fun of my electric fireplace, apart from the fire-run-amok-diorama reverie. I accepted it out of the box. And, consequently, have fallen a little more in love each day with the nature of the heater just as it is, rather than how it compares to a real fire. Its beauty – and my appreciation – would wither under that weight. But loved for itself, it shines.
So I’ve been wondering what it might feel like to bring that kind of acceptance to the other entities that populate my life. To understand that each thing, animate and inanimate, exists according to its nature: no more, no less, no different. And that wishing otherwise needlessly burdens me with a litany of inner objections and– at least in the case of other humans — them with the weight of my expectations. Better to accept people, no less than things, for just what they are. To stand back and allow them to shine as they may according to their own nature, rather than wanting them to be something they’re not.
It’s a promising idea, though — like many promising ideas — challenging to put into practice. Still: Worth contemplating, coffee cup in hand and cat on lap, sitting in front of my little fake fireplace.