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Have you ever tried to look inside yourself? Do you even have time to? Most people get so caught up in their daily activities, such as homework, cooking, and a whole world of things that they forget to stop and think about whom they really are inside. If you have a heap of troubles piled on you, like Mark does, it can make you even more oblivious to who you really are.
Mark is an intelligent and humorous young man with a handful of friends. He has black hair that is always spiked up like a porcupine’s quills, and is very close to his mother. One day, while studying for an important college exam in his dorm, his phone started ringing. He glanced at his digital clock. Its orange numbers revealed a time of 1:32 A.M. Mark yawned as he opened his phone.
“Hello?” he answered wearily.
“Hi, Mark. This is your Aunt Dot.” There was a hint of sadness in her voice, even though she was known to be the most cheerful member of the family.
Mark’s back stiffened. He thought it was strange how his aunt was calling at this hour.
“What is it?” he asked tensely.
Dot took a deep breath. “Apparently, your mother has died in her sleep. We’re not sure why yet, but we’re sending her to the hospital tomorrow…today, I mean. I’m sorry…” Her voice trailed off as it broke into sobs.
Mark thought he would burst into tears in an instant, but he was so shocked that he could barely speak. This was too much for him. The hard college exam he started studying for seemed nothing compared to the fact that his mother was now dead.
“O-o-ok…I guess I’ll talk to you later. Please tell me more whenever you can.” He forcefully shut his phone. Mark still needed to review chapter three, but who cares now? It was almost two in the morning; he was exhausted, and twice as shocked. Like a rock being thrown into a lake, he plopped onto his bed.
The next morning was a blur to Mark. He made it to school, but he was certainly not himself. He walked through Paper Mill Hall like a zombie. He had answered the exam questions mechanically, like a robot. He believed his did well on his test. Maybe even aced it. Does it really matter? He thought, despite his studious nature. After hearing about his mother’s death just that morning, he could care less. Whenever the thought of his grades or anything else tried to enter his mind, his mother’s death pushed them all away, dominating his mind and weighing his heart down, when suddenly….
“Hey,” a deep voice boomed.
“Hey James,” Mark responded in a rather flat tome.
“I don’t know if you can because this is really short notice, but Mike and I were thinking of going hiking and exploring the woods and we thought it would be cool if you came along…would you like to?”
Mark thought for a good minute. He knew that Aunt Dot would call soon with more details, but at the same time, he wanted to escape all his troubles.
“Sure,” he replied. “What time?”
James sunk his hands into the deep pockets of his khaki shorts. “Four. Meet us at Elpida Creek.”
Mark nodded his head. “Ok.”
Four o’clock was a good five hours away, but his classes flied by as quickly as a race car on a speedway, and before he knew it, he was in his dorm, finding all the outdoor things he had…a backpack, water bottle, notebook, camera, and a portable telescope. Once Mark packed his bag, he left his dorm building and ventured toward the woods. He checked his watch to make sure he was on schedule. It was exactly four.
As he approached Elpida Creek, he found Mike and James sitting on gray stones that were rising out of the overgrown grass.
“Hey!” they shouted in unison.
“Oh, hi, guys,” Mark said. “I brought a camera, telescope, some water…”
“Great!” Mike exclaimed, clueless about Mark’s personal crisis. The telescope will be great. There’s this great view a few miles up. We could use your camera to get some great shots too!”
“Cool…let’s go then. Ready, James?”
James nodded enthusiastically.
As they stepped over uprooted trees and ducked through tangles of leaves, they reached the edge of a cliff. Tall mountains touched the sky, now streaked with orange and purple as the sun prepared to set.
“Man, this is beautiful,” James said with awe.
“Yeah,” Mark mumbled in response, reaching into his bag for the telescope. He unfolded the strand and screwed the telescope into place.
“Why don’t you go first?” suggested James. “After all, it’s your telescope.”
Mark bent down and put his left eye into the lens. He admired the colorful and fascinating scenery. Then something strange started happening. The deep ridges of brown mountains slowly blurred into coffee-colored squiggles. The colors of the original sunset became splashes of vibrant colors: school bus yellow, fire truck red, cobalt blue, even splashes of half dollar silver. Was Mark hallucinating?
As Mark started to marvel at this complex, abstract painting, he began to realize that he was not going crazy. He had been given the rare opportunity to peer into the depths of his soul. Defined by the past, reflecting the present, and capable of even more transformations in the future, this constant yet ever-changing canvas can easily turn into a stranger within us. Soft, wavy lines showed Mark’s easy-going nature, while a few sharp spears unveiled his dark side, which is not only buried in Mark, but deep within all of us. The browns and grays represented the silent turmoil Mark was now experiencing, which seemed so inescapable at this moment. Although these thoughts occupied his mind and seemed to take over his soul, just like the mountains dominated the landscape, the vibrant colors just above those peaks soaring within him, placed there by the special people in his life like his mom and Aunt Dot, showed hope and were not completely gone. Those special people had taught him well.
This may have started as a simple hiking trip, but looking through that telescope, Mark learned a great lesson: take a good look within and peel the outer layers of darkness until you reach an inner core of light. Sometimes what has been taken from us—and what we still have—are what builds up our strength and the courage to go on.
“You’re right, James,” Mark said softly. “It really is beautiful.”