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My pendant burned like a scarlet letter as the autumn leaves crunched beneath my feet. I dashed into the forest behind my house, journal in hand, trying to escape my thoughts. I was haunted by my inability to keep my parents together; to quell my friends’ anxieties; to better the world. Nature had always been my solace, but as the wind screeched and the leaves were torn away, it became only another reminder of all of the things I couldn’t save. I plopped down beneath the sugar maple tree off the beaten path. The empty pages of my book stared expectantly at me, waiting for the words between the silence—but my head was too full of chatter to write.
Just like the boy in William Faulkner’s “The Bear,” I was too afraid of being lost to find what I was looking for. He spent years planning every step of his hunting trips because he feared the wild nature of the bear. It was the same way that I spent hours inside my head, trying to fix problems that were not mine because I was frightened of being aimless in my individuality. The boy had to give up society’s influence–his compass, watch, and gun–in order to see the tracks. The fear rose in his chest of confronting his enemy; but when the bear emerged, his eyes were lain upon not merely an animal, but an entity of courage and freedom and love that transcended all life and death. Somewhere I knew that in finding my heart, I also would be able to come to terms with myself and help the world better than I had ever before.
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I smiled, becoming acutely aware of the silence. The world paused and took a breath, as if a new star had been born into the universe—and I wrote. Always I had planned my poetry to the word, bound by the compulsion of a writer; but this time I followed my pen, the same way the boy followed his heart out to the woods. I was not afraid to be lost within the silence of a page, and not afraid to find myself, either.
There had always been a sort of audacity to me; I would be the one to rescue the spider from the shrieking teenage girls at tennis practice, and always the first in my family to volunteer to go on a roller coaster, even at five years old. But to accept my passion in the face of a world I thought would hate me for it; to separate myself from my parents’ heart-wrenching tirades against one another during their divorce; to risk being stigmatized and reach out when I needed help—these were things that took true courage. Just like the boy in the story, I seemed to be facing an indomitable enemy with no help from anything but my heart. But just like him, where I once thought to find suffering, I found freedom.
I looked up at the falling leaves and barren branches. What I once viewed to be desolation turned into something simply misunderstood; I was reminded that trees shed their leaves to survive. The world, and all its inhabitants, must endure their own losses in order to appreciate new life. ‘So all I can be is brave,’ I thought, squeezing the bear pendant that lay upon my chest: a most beautiful mark of difference.
Expression is an amazing thing; I find myself able to reconnect people with their true, authentic selves, just for having found mine. Being able to bring friends to tears from poems I’ve written on grief and endurance was an eye-opening experience, and suddenly I knew they felt less alone. I can’t solve every problem in the world; I can only hope that I am able to inspire others to face their winters, having warmed their hearts with the knowledge of spring.