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Playing with Fire


Playing with Fire

Callie Feyen


Today in class we read about Prometheus and Zeus. Prometheus, who’d just created humans, believed they needed a thing or two in order to survive. The text says he pitied them.

“What does ‘pitied’ mean?”

“It means you feel sorry for someone and you want to do something to help.”

So Prometheus meets with Zeus and says, “Hey, Zeus. I made these people, see? They got nothin’. How about I tell them about fire. I think it’ll help.”

Zeus says no.

“How he gonna not give us fire?” one student asks.

“Yeah, what’s Zeus’ problem?”

“Zeus is just like Cronus,” one of my students says, referring to the guy who ate his kids  because he was afraid they would dethrone him. “He doesn’t want things to change.”

“Hey!” another student shouts. “Didn’t Zeus’ mama save him from Cronus?”

“Yeah! Rhea! Rhea saved Zeus! Does he know about that?”

“I don’t know,” I say.

“Well, I bet he’d let humans have fire if he remembered what his mama did for him.”

Zeus doesn’t remember, and tells Prometheus to let the humans alone. Prometheus decided to go against those orders and shows humans how to light a match.

The text we are reading explains that Prometheus’ act is a gift; that he took something of himself and shared it with humans. I point that out to my students.

“It’s risky,” I say, “giving something of yourself away.” I love Prometheus for what he does. Giving something of myself away is the only way I know how to teach. In my classroom, I simultaneously hope for sparks and am afraid of what sort of fire will start. I yearn for and recoil at the thought of how I might get burned. I want to be like Prometheus, but I understand where Zeus is coming from.

We talk about the story for a bit, and then my students are to write a two-paragraph essay on a theme in Prometheus.

Breyanna gasps and puts her hand over her mouth. To her delight, several students stop writing and look at her.

“Mrs. Feyen!” she says. “I just saw a bird fall out of a tree! It’s dead!”

Breyanna has a great mind. Teachers dream of having a class full of minds capable of what Breyanna’s can do. Lately though, she’s been struck by an illness called, “Eleventwelvethirteen.” Symptoms include: the thrill of manipulation, severe attitude problems, and acute eye rollititis. I believe she is lying when she tells me about the bird.

She’s smiling and her eyes tell me she’s ready for an argument. The entire hour Breyanna and I have been snapping at each other. Now, her eyes are dancing with mischief, and I understand she is trying to rile me up.

“Write about that bird,” I tell Breyanna.


I take a step closer to her, but keep talking so the entire class can hear.

“Write about the bird. See if you can incorporate it into your essay. What’s that dead bird have to do with Zeus and Prometheus?”

I don’t know the answer and I don’t know if Breyanna knows. But she picks up her pencil and begins writing, her face different now, determined.

“If anyone can do it, you can, Breyanna.”

I’m not lying. Breyanna can write. I feel foolish and afraid saying it outloud, though. She could laugh at me. Roll her eyes. Lately, standing in front of the class and sharing myself has become painfully difficult. I don’t know how much longer I can do it.

Today though, I pass a torch to Breyanna: Take that bird and make her fly, child. Light a fire within yourself. We’ll figure out what to do about Zeus later.