‘Who wants to hear about brave deeds when he’s ashamed of his own, and who likes an open, honest tale from someone he’s deceiving’ – found in Watership Down, by Richard Adams. The first day we arrived at camp, we were told to get into groups of eighths, and we would be accommodated for in these groups. Obviously, we all went to our own and anticipated the memories soon to be made. Then they gave us all individual numbers ranging from one to eight, blessed be thy, they weren’t going to separate us were they? They say I tend to be a devil’s advocate in situations were one is unnecessary and unwelcomed. This situation proved no different. ‘Old men know young men to be fools, young men know old men to be so.’ After being shown to the rooms we were to share with familiar strangers, we did them a favour and reshuffled back into our own circles with the coaches none the wiser. We saved them a handful of teenage drama. You’re welcome coach.
It had been a challenging day hitherto. The camp had taken out of us energies we never knew resided in us. We had spent the day manoeuvring our bodies this way and that and searching so deeply in our souls for what the coaches talked of and believed in so much, we found ourselves drowning in spiritual affliction and ready to grab the life jacket that is the superficial world. Needless to say, we were all secretly in an earnest mood. The night cold bit and nibbled at us so much that the first sign of smoke was welcomed the same way I’d imagine monks and nuns would welcome ‘The Second Coming.’ With the last dosage of alacrity left in us, we gathered around the campfire and tried to bring back the comfortable superficial with jokes answered using ‘LOL.’
But it is true what they say about spiritual affliction; that the soul is inextricably steeped in pain and if you look far enough inside yourself it will change you. I honestly did not get the point of all we had done that day.
What was the use of opening up old wounds and making demons people never knew they had manifest? It all seemed a bit sadist if you ask me. Then the smoke turned into malicious flames. Ignited. The fire cracked and raged with its tongue promising to lick us all out of our misery. We casually moved our chairs back, trying to look cool amongst our fellow youths. Call it pathetic fallacy or whatever you may, but the fire turned into an emotion. Its warmth generated an internal sort of heat that left us sitting at the edges of our chairs, crowded by our own effervescent ecstasy.
The coaches told their stories sincerely with an openness that insinuated a certain level of trust had been reached we found ourselves shifting uncomfortably at our own breach of trust. But the atmosphere remained unchanged, earnest and laden with feeling. It was contagious.
Then one by one, the feelings bubbled out. Each told a tale of their life in a language new. One spoke of a prodigal father. A father who had one day kissed them goodbye to go on a business trip; one that lasted just shy of seven years. A trip that afforded him a new wife and a bouncing baby boy. Non-financial perks of the job. And when he came back an autarky mother was forced and expected to swallow her pride and thank God he came back; even though he bought with him an uninvited plus one to join the circus. Culture. And she, our storyteller, was to forgive and continue as if he had never left and as if she didn’t obtain a sibling overnight. His new wife had unfortunately been exactly like him; a filthy liar.
Another told a tale of a broken heart. A story about giving your all to someone whom you thought would love you naked; no facade and all you walls down, and whom you thought was wholly consumed by you only to find out that one Romeo may romance two Juliets. How does one stop loving? How does one know when to wake up from disillusionment? How does one find closure when it’s not being offered? How does one even begin to comprehend that ‘she brought me coffee sometimes’ meant ‘I don’t love you anymore?’
As the series of eruptions took place, all of us subconsciously made a home in the lava of spiritual affliction and turned it into a long awaited for happiness. The talk around the fire transformed itself into soul food. Then we were all given a paper that symbolised that part of ourselves that had haunted us and we had to throw it into the fire as a way of letting go.
A catharsis. The fire had its last roar, fuelled by our pain. As we moved away to go to bed, the fire died down as if it realised we had neither anger nor any borderline dangerous emotion to feed it. Like I said, call it pathetic fallacy or whatever you choose.
Who would have thought that in the end, we would not need the life jacket of the superficial world to save us from drowning but instead sitting around a campfire would teach us how to swim. ‘My candle burns at both ends. It will not last the night.
But ah my foes and oh my friends It gives such lovely light.’