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Angry Stick, Happy Rock
Rustlings and whispers disturb the chill night as campers arrange themselves around the dully-glowing fire. Sleeping bags are shifted, mats are wrestled into submission, logs are yanked into place. As the chaos dies down, I stare across the circle into the ghostly faces of my friends. It is as if I peer at them underwater; their faces blur and stretch until they separate from themselves. Features flicker in the darkness, cast in gaunt shadow by the feeble light.
My eyelids droop. Why are we even out here? It’s almost eleven, and I for one would rather be snuggling into my cot back at the cabins. Sleeping is so much easier than thinking. I’ve been doing too much pondering lately, and with the pondering comes pain. Sleeping, though—a blessed release.
The counselor clears her throat and speaks so softly that we strain to catch her words.
“When I first came to Sprog two years ago, Angry Stick, Happy Rock was, and has been, my favorite part of the camp. This activity creates lasting bonds between the campers and we feel much more connected after tonight.”
Tremors of anticipation ripple around the campfire, the college-age students muttering like kindergarteners. I sink back against a tree stump. How long is this activity going to take? Honestly, after four days of intensive leadership training, I need an emotional roller coaster like I need a hole in the head.
“Here we have the Angry Stick. When you are passed the Angry Stick, you may speak about whatever makes you angry in the world. You have a few minutes to think about what you are going to say.”
Thinking? Not again. I squint my eyes against the cold and breath deeply, poised to let my anger slide to the surface like an oil slick on ocean swells. Patiently I sift through my memories and wait for the fierce spark of resentment to ignite. But all I see is an endless expanse of blindingly white ice. Slippery, shadowy emotions glide beneath the shell, but elusive anger is nowhere to be found. A sense of numbness freezes my heart even while I struggle to glimpse my shadowed anger. I am frustrated by so many worthless occurrences, but when I am expected to feel true emotion, I do not want to break the ice.
Stories shudder across the campfire, and I stumble further across the slick expanse as I hear the bitter world through the eyes of teenagers. Hearing the fury, the angst, but most of all the hopelessness, slows my heartbeat till I fear it will cease. Their anger slices the velvet sky with its jagged edges, but in the end the destruction is wreaked by their despair. As the melancholy shrieks across midnight blue, I shrink. An aching depression steals over my leaden limbs.
These beautiful, idealistic people, with their flashing smiles and grand plans of change, are being slowly ripped apart by corruption. Is this the nature of our new generation, I wonder, that our world’s last hope struggles against such brutal chains? A dark, wrenching cloud billows across the icy waste, sending tendrils of tears racing up my spine and layering a fog over my brain. Who has damned this society to lives fraught with hopelessness and fear? When compared to the mass of dejection that roils above our heads, each lovely individual is insignificant, worthless, even.
And there is nothing we can do. No action we can take to piece our souls back together, no elixir to instill feathery lightness inside us. No tool to save any broken person in the world. We drown in our sorrow under the vast night sky.
Our failures slide along the slick surface of the ice. They threaten to choke me with their endless despondency. Now I fall to my knees and cover my ears, blocking out the fearful anger that threatens to burst through the thinning ice. I need to disconnect, to stop feeling, but anger seeps through from the tumultuous ocean with a flickering warmth. The iciness still surrounds me, but beneath my feet, battling ice crystals, burns a tiny fire. I scoop up my anger and shield it from the ice, focusing completely on the wisps of flame. When I am handed the Angry Stick, my voice is as whispery as a flute’s.
“I am angry that when a person is born into this world, the chance of achieving his or her dreams is so small, and that nobody has made this a reality except humans. I’m angry—I’m angry that it feels like there’s nothing we can do about it. I’m angry that we feel so hopeless.” With this last sentence, the fire cupped in my hands sinks through my fingers. Warmth, a strange yet lovely warmth, and now the snaking veins along my arms glow softly. Tears roll down my face and I sniff quietly through a stuffy nose. Currents of tension flow around the circle and reflect off round faces etched with tear tracks.
I am so tired. Stumbling, whirling, falling, yet at the same time I soar. Am I dying? Or simply feeling? Freedom, these emotions, but a complex and dangerous freedom. There is a constant struggle to face one’s desires and fears in a society where emotion translates to weakness.
My anger is not weakness. It is protection against the ice crystals that threaten to form along my arms. Our enemies are not anger, fear, nor sorrow, only the dreadful wall of ice that subdues the sea of feeling, the suffocating whiteness that overwhelms us every time we wake.
I am awakened, but I am not free. I still trace a wavering path through the unchanging brightness, and I will fight the ice for the rest of my days. Now though, when I step, I melt the ice with my fire. Someday I will be able to swim.