Not often do you come across a story about a stick that is worth transmitting to written word, but I believe I possess such a story.
Five years ago my best friend, Rob, was in a horrific house fire. I got the word that he was scorched on 70% of his body and clinging tenuously to life in a San Francisco Burn Ward.
The man, my friend I knew since 16 and considered a brother, in one form, or all forms, was gone. That’s all I understood.
I told everybody I knew about it. I told them how sad it made me. I was mad that my girlfriend at the time wasn’t sad enough. I went out that night with friends and we got shit-drunk. We shared stories and wept and talked about him in the past tense in a Fairfax bar, warm and untouched by fire, always catching ourselves awkwardly. Then my friends and I went on a walk through the sleeping neighborhood and were comforted a little by pin-dropped stars in a vast and mysterious sky.
I was wearing the robes of despair when I came across a stick, a plain old branch from a rather unremarkable tree, and instinctively picked it up and carried it with me. It wasn’t bigger than two feet. There was nothing unusual about this stick except that when I held it in my hand I felt within it a special power. I got the feeling that as long as I held onto this stick, and protected it, and as long as the stick was intact, Rob would be okay.
I came home and placed it on my mantle. It didn’t look strange or anything. I had a gold-painted rock and a stuffed tiger with gold chains in my living room already. The stick was right at home.
The stick gave me hope, even though I knew it was just an ordinary stick.
The stick stayed on my mantle for many years, and when it left the mantle it moved to a spot in the corner. Rob not only survived the fire, he recovered spectacularly. Last December we went on a ten-day trip to Europe and had the time of our lives. I was wrong that night when I thought in one way or another, Rob was gone, he is very much the same man on the inside I knew from before the fire, just with some scars on the outside.
I know the miracle belongs more to the fine doctors at the hospital than to my “magic” stick, but even Rob would agree that the stick at least factored in somewhere.
Before I get to, I hope, the interesting part, let’s recap…
In a time of emotional need I selected a stick and bestowed upon it a higher meaning. I knowingly manufactured a myth around the stick that gave me hope. Something to believe in. This on-the-spot spiritual story gave me succor when I was suffering and that’s probably why I held on to it for so long after the danger had passed. At this point it WAS a magic stick, because I had declared it thus, so I needed to make sure that stick was safe, even though I knew it was silly, that Rob’s life wasn’t somehow protected by this dead piece of a tree leaning against my wall, that it was just some thing I had drunkenly conjured up.
So this takes us to today; wherein our story takes a tragic turn.
While moving furniture around I placed an old window frame on the ground and heard a loud crack. If you’ve ever collected firewood you know the sound. It was a sharp severing that reverberated off the wall. It slapped my ears with an unmistakable, cold finality.
I stopped. I didn’t look down. For a brief moment I was terrified at what I carelessly done.
An episode of 1ooo Ways to Die flashed through my brain and they all starred my friend.
Right that instant, in my head, I saw Rob slip on a banana peel, choke on a milkshake straw, and break his back doing a mean windmill on the dance floor. All because I didn’t look where I set that damn window down!
When I opened my eyes I saw about a third of the stick had broken off. I also noticed how the leaves on the potted plant next to the now-broken stick was drooping. I had to make this right but I couldn’t put the stick back together again. Inspiration struck. I picked up the larger piece of the stick and dug it into the dirt to use to prop up the drooping branches. Rob is now healthy, happy, a great friend and supporter to all, it only makes sense that the stick is now being used to support the tree.
It was the stick’s destiny to break and now be used in this fashion. Breaking the stick was what was meant to happen all along.
That’s what I was now going with.
For five years I held a sacred belief that the stick held one meaning, that it protected Rob’s life like a magical amulet or talisman or what have you, and within 30 seconds of that belief being tested I made the switch to believing it now represented Rob’s personal growth and supportive nature…
Rather than face the negative conclusion of my beliefs, I revised and altered the story so that both Rob and the myth could live. It now holds another form of symbolism, one that doesn’t result in the spontaneous and/or bizarre death of Rob.
I mean, spelling it out sorta confuses it, but it’s akin to immediately going from the bible being literal to allegorical. In 30 seconds.
I’ll let you decide whether this story about a stick is fascinating or not. I guess I’m being clever because it’s obviously really not about the damn stick, but the stick being a representation of something else (much like these words are just a crude representation of what it felt like to hear that stick snap and have to come to terms with five years of myth-building being tested; a stick figure drawing in a cave, if you will).
It’s strange that I was very aware of this primitive, almost pagan-like event as it happened, but was still powerless to prevent it. It’s a rather strange reminder that as far as we’ve come, we’re still very much like our ancient ancestors, constructing Gods from elements and royalty from bloodlines.
We live in a stranger and dangerous moment of human evolution where we’re capable of capturing killer whales and teaching them to do tricks in a giant bathtub but still primitive and dumb enough to believe this was a cool thing to do. We built rocket ships that can carry us to the moon, but only because the two strongest countries were in a pissing match with each other and were seeking a strategic perch with which to obliterate each other.
We’re living in a time where we’re too advanced for our own good.
We’re monkeys holding loaded guns. Just because we have thumbs doesn’t mean we know the best things to do with them. And though I comment with a better-than-thou snark, I know I’m very much half man/half caveman too.