1 + 1 + 1 = ?

Math is said to be the purest of sciences, because numbers don’t lie. Its rules are set in stone, unshakeable, unchanging.

Sometimes, though, life throws math out the window.

I found this out on a Friday night while watching three of my friends order “Flaming Shots” at a hip little dive bar near Sydney’s Chinatown. For the non-drinkers reading this, a “Flaming Shot” is a small glass of strong liqueur that’s set alight, usually by a culinary blowtorch. The alcohol produces a brief, showy plume of flame, which is then allowed to die down naturally before drinking the liqueur. (No, it’s not meant to be drunk while the flame is still going– that would be a grave breach of health and safety laws.)

Being a non-drinker (my body doesn’t tolerate alcohol, similar to the way some people’s bodies don’t tolerate gluten or dairy), I was content to photograph the Flaming Shots but not order any for myself. Upon being set alight, each glass of liqueur became its own blue fiery pillar, graceful and elegant in the dim light of the bar.

Flaming shots in their earliest stage

Then, predictably, the alcohol fumes began to spread, making each Shot burn slightly more brightly.

Shots once the alcohol fumes start to spreadA split second later, the flames erupted together. The resulting conflagration likely registered in most people’s minds as a “Wow!” moment, but for me, it was an “Aha!” moment.

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The brilliant mass of wildfire was stunningly intense, larger than one would expect of the sum of the three individual Shots. In that instant, 1 + 1 + 1 did not equal 3. The blaze easily looked like the equivalent of at least six miniature fire pillars. Each single Shot was incandescently beautiful on its own; together, the three Shots became so much more.

As the flames faded and my friends drank their Shots, I saw them in an entirely new light (no apologies for the pun). Each of us, on their own, had their individual talents and gifts. Each of us was capable of mighty and wonderful things, of spreading great love, of bringing abundant joy. But by letting our combined flames burn as one, by sharing each other’s brilliance and warmth and strength– it made my heart swell to envision how extravagantly radiant we could be, together.

So I’m dedicating this post to the three friends who accompanied me on that Friday night. To you, faithful compatriots, I raise my imaginary glass (of non-alcoholic tipple… let’s say a peach iced tea). Here’s to us. To shared giggles and shared tears. To diverted boredom, inside jokes, and unexpected hugs. To lessons learned, bonds forged in steel, and biscuits in the afternoons. May we light the world together– resplendently, gloriously, magnificently — until we settle into a softly glowing, cozily snuggled pile of happy embers, looking back on our dazzling days with contented smiles.

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