By Tony Pan '24
April 9, 2022
Are you tired of worrying about shadows at night, those from the unforgettable embarrassment in the day past fueled by your desires to live flawlessly, keeping you up until they exhaust your last ounce? Want a break from the uncertainties awaiting at dawn, those unforeseen hiccups interrupting your schedule and vision ironed out to perfection, keeping you twisting in circles until you throw your hands in the air?
Let me introduce your new shelter upon the solid rock, the inextinguishable flame that will light exterminate the faintest glooms of evening. Get it today, custom-made for your needs with life-time guarantee! And what’s the best part? A generous donor has given everyone access to it for free! Say goodbye to those hideous nightmares and haunting insecurities.
Call today! Your life-changing transformation awaits!
“LOL,” he shuts it off. He plops himself onto his bed and flips his pillow over to rest his head on the cooler face.
He’s heard other promises before: those affirmations from the internet that didn’t deliver as requested, those unanswered wishes to his future self that seemed to have dissipated as a vapor in the cold winter winds.
The sun is always dimmer under the clouds.
Under the gray sky of the storm, everything is the same color. From the back window of his bedroom, what used to be the radiant red of his childhood slide resting in the backyard is now indistinguishable from the color of a withered rose wilted to its side, too tired to stand up. What used to be the flawless white of his comfort blanket is tainted by the shadows of the clouds.
He basically forgot how it all should have been. Doesn’t matter. It is what it is now.
Lies told him to be satisfied with what he had – what he had worked for, the symbolism of his accomplishments and those yet to come. The right side of his bedroom wall was decorated with paper: paper that said “congratulations” or “award” or some other words that seemed to look important based on the font (it was usually Garamond and bolded). Then there was a chunk of golden plastic resting on the dresser shaped in a cup.
He also forgot what it felt like to bring them home for the first time. It doesn’t matter; it’s probably on tape. But regardless, he remembers he should be proud. Because he worked so hard for them, and the sweat was real. The time spent devoted to achieving those words pinned to the wall is undeniable. Because if those words lost their meaning, what was the point of the time and the aches and the stress which kept him awake.
Those pieces of paper are his pride – and he needed more to prepare himself to face the real world. In an opportunity, they will lift him up. In a real storm, they will protect him. At least that’s what CollegeVine says. He bought it.
He thought that was kinda funny.
The scene changes.
He finds himself alone standing in loosely packed sand. Stuck. Dry desert gusts blow particles of sand into the air, obscuring midday the horizon already blurred by radiating heat waves from the dunes. He’s thirsty.
His own praiseworthy intellect certified by his high school honor rolls told him to look for nearby vegetation or dig below hoping for a water source. All he had was those sheets of paper and that plastic cup, stripped off the walls and half buried in the sand. And he began to dig.
He started with using the cup as a shovel, like scooping water out of a sinking boat as the sand would slide back down the slopes of the hill into the hole he sweated and ached digging. When the plastic eventually broke from the strain of exhaustion, he switched to using the pieces of paper, folded into the shape of a cone. He went through the pile, sheet by sheet, until the words were sanded away and the paper was too thin to hold its shape in the gust of the desert. And his throat only grew drier.
A traveler passed in the far sign of his vision.
Help! He signaled to her.
She approached the exhausted man lying finished in his half-dug hole with his legs still stuck beneath the sand topped with the remnants of his possessions. Expecting to be saved, he asked for water.
“But why should I give you water?” She asked.
He stood there. His arms scrambling to gather the broken pieces of plastic and ripped portions of paper, cupping his hands and presenting them to her. Sand leaked through his fingers and all that remained was what he had treasured in his bedroom.
“Look at this plastic!” Desperation. “Look! It used to be a golden cup! I won it myself!” Panic. “What about this paper!” Distress “ThisIsWhatIHaveAndWHATIPOSSESSANDWHATIOWN!!!”
…what I have…
“Is it enough…” his voice strained, “to buy a drop of water?”
The scene changes. Where?…that doesn’t matter.
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
and justified when you judge.
Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
The storm casts its shadow.
The truth was there all along.
Enough. Custom-made. Life-time guaranteed.
All he had to do was ask.
It was his choice when to look beyond the clouds to realize:
Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
Illustration by Helena Suh '23