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It started out as an idea.
“Let's write down one of our fears on a slip of paper,” my workshop counselor announced. “It could be about any fear that you want to get rid of.”
It was those last thirteen words that had everyone transfixed at the silent promise.
Earlier that evening, people walked around, considering the idea of doing something exciting before the writing workshop ended. Tuttle Dorm had already been blanketed b y stars hours ago, and lights flickered from the suites and street lamps. A group of boys played soccer on the lawn during the last minutes of free time that we had. My suitemates and I watched from the third story terrace where the trees weren't blocking the view.
Virginia was hot and humid and full of fireflies during the evening and night hours. The world there was filled with shimmering green. Colonial brick buildings sat atop grassy hills with hundreds of trees covering every available space. The sky was a deep, rich blue-black that fit against the silver twinkle of the millions of stars that lit the sky at night. They—along with the fireflies—cast a glow over the whole city, bathing it in a milky light. The whole city was beautiful and luminous during every hour of the day, and think foliage sprouted everywhere.
There were a few days left of the workshop before it ended, and there was a melancholy tone in everyone's voices when they talked about going back home so soon. It wasn't even over yet and you could hear nostalgia already tinging people's voices. The workshop was a new experience for most, including myself, and I thought that once it ended, it would take along with it the newfound confidence that I had gained.
That wasn't the case though.
A few minutes later all of the counselors were calling us, signaling the end of free time and the start of suite time. As usual, my suitemates and I gathered in the living area of our suite to begin, and that was when our suite counselor, Elena Belyea, spoke those thirteen words that had everyone interested and turning her way. She just smiled at us as if it was so simple to just get rid of our fears by writing it down. In all honesty, none of us knew what she was up to, and we were curious to see how we could get rid one of our fears so easily.
A piece of paper was silently slipped between everyone's fingers. The sound of crackling paper and moving pencils was apparent as people used couches and armrests as surfaces to write on. I thought for a bit before writing down my one fear for the upcoming school year. Everyone folded their papers: once, twice, three times. Not a single person wanted anyone else to know their weakness; a secret that was kept at all cost. Someone clenched it between fists; others held it loosely, daring someone to snatch it. I however, held it between my fingers, not as a challenge or as a dare.
Elena rummaged in her bag and pulled out an old tin coffee can that was the size of a mug. She dropped a matchbook in it before demanding for all of us to follow her down the stairs and outside even though it was close to eleven at night.
The air was humid, but the night had a soft wind. Fireflies still danced lazily around oak trees as we crossed the lawn of the dorm and headed across a field. Grass tickled the tops of my ankles as I walked and crickets perfumed the air with their music. We stopped in front of an old tree where grass reached up to the middle of our calves. The coffee can landed on the ground with a dull thud, making a soft sound against the pebbles in the dirt.
Elena motioned for all of us to place our slips of paper in the coffee can, and one by one we took turns stuffing it in until the inside resembled white confetti. With a flick of her wrist, she lit a match and dropped it into the can. The papers inside curled around themselves and glowed a faint orange. For a second, they looked like flowers before they turned to black ash. Smoke swirled around in a gray haze. Watching the papers burn felt like our fears were burning away with it. Everything felt different, almost as if the world had shifted slightly while we were all staring at our burning fears.
“Your fears should have disappeared now,” Elena stated as she looked at each of us with confidence. “You should feel as if they've just left your body.”
And she was right. It did feel that way.
I smiled as I walked back to the dorm, and I noticed that everyone else was smiling too. The effect was momentous, and not just for me, but for the people around me. We all felt closer then, and even though we didn't know what each others' fears were, we could sense how the weight of everything was lifted off of our shoulders.
The air was still humid, and the temperature was still high, but even in those negative things I was able to find something good about it. I was sad about the nearing end of the workshop, but I was still able to smile. I knew that I wasn't going to walk away from this experience and not remember anything. The workshop was an experience that I would always remember, and that night was the night that would never be forgotten. To me, it made everything and everyone glow. It made everything beautiful.
It started out as an idea and ended as an unforgettable life change.