The Invisible Fire

Part of the process of building the Brooklyn Bridge (as with other, similar structures) involved sinking pressurized caissons made of reinforced timber into the East River so that workers could dig the foundations into the river bottom. The caissons go to the bottom, are pressurized to the level of the surrounding water to keep them dry, and the workers go down to slowly sink the things into the ground. Then the two support towers were built on top of them (so, yes, the Brooklyn Bridge sits on wooden foundations. Southern pine, to be precise. They were over-engineered to hell and back to make sure they could take it; an accident during construction resulted in one of the half-finished towers dropping nearly five times the expected pressure on one of them, and it stood up with only a few cracks).

Anyway, during the digging, one of the caissons caught fire (open flames were, after all, the only practical source of light at the time). This gave the workers and firefighters the chance to observe an eerie phenomenon: with the air pressure so high, there were no flames. The fire burned entirely silently and invisibly, with only the blackening timbers to show that it was there.

Anxiety is sometimes like that; you don’t really feel the pain and the frantic over-energized state as in a full-blown attack. Instead, it festers quietly. You feel fine, except that it’s impossible to relax and very difficult to focus. But since you’re not experiencing the painful over-stimulation, you assume that things are okay, and if you just settle one or two things that are bothering you, you’ll be back to normal. Only, you’re not quite sure what those one or two things might be, and it’s strangely hard to focus enough to figure it out.

That’s been me the past few days, though I only identified the fire, as it were, yesterday and so was able to apply some appropriate reflections and am feeling considerably better. Shortly after, by what is sometimes called ‘coincidence’, I read one of St. Francis de Sales’s letters to an anxious correspondent wherein he addressed this very issue, including recommending some of the remedies I’d been trying to apply. I’ll let him handle the conclusion:

Do not look forward to the changes and chances of this life in fear; rather look to them with full hope that as they arise, God, Whose you are, will deliver you out of them. He has kept you hitherto, do you but hold fast to His Dear Hand, and He will lead you safely through all things; and when you cannot stand, He will bear you in His Arms. What need you fear, my child, remembering that you are God’s, and that He has said, “All things work together for good to them that love Him.” Do not look forward to what may happen to-morrow; the same Everlasting Father Who cares for you to-day, will take care of you to-morrow, and every day. Either He will shield you from suffering, or He will give you unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace, then; put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations, and say continually, “The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart hath trusted in Him, and I am helped.” He is not only with me, but in me, and I in Him.

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