The intricate mastery of Japanese swordmaking relies on a smith’s deep understanding of fire, metal, and techniques to control both. Each unique sword shimmers with thousands of layers from the folding of the metal, a work of art in steel. That steel, though, traditionally comes from an iron-rich sand full of impurities, pounded and blended by the smith. A smith then uses a secret mix of water, clay, ash, and other ingredients over the blade as they once again plunge the sword into fire to create a keen edge. Only when the blade glows a certain color is it quenched in water.

Humans have learned to use fire over the centuries to great effect, not only on our weapons but with our defenses. A 1,500-year-old hillfort in Sweden, for example, has rocks fused together with an ancient glass, now being studied by Washington State University materials scientist John McCloy. As he reverse-engineers the techniques and ingredients, we might even use the glass as a defense in a new battle against the radioactive waste at the Hanford Site.

There are other fires that forge the human spirit. We all face adversity in our lives, and it tempers our spirit and resolve. For Tom Haig ’09 as a young man, it was a bicycling accident that paralyzed his legs. He turned that moment into a chance to advocate for others with disabilities, and even set up a radio station in Nepal.

Leaving home is a traumatic event for many of us, particularly as we get older. Over 60,000 Americans turn 65 every day, and that wave will often look to new kinds of communities as they make the transition to their next phase. Students in WSU’s hospitality program are taking up the call for more managers in senior living communities, and finding rewarding work that assists older people in finding a new home.

Difficulties come in many forms. It may be trouble sleeping, or it could be traipsing through a jungle to track jaguars and ocelots. Sometimes it’s a societal problem, like the scourge of fake news that threatens our democracy. In troubled times like these, we need to hone our critical thinking blades to slice through misinformation, and come out the other side stronger and wiser.