|Harvest of Hope Writing Contest Winners|
Below are the winning entries and runner ups in the Harvest of Hope writing contest.
by FRANJA RUSSELL
We cling to it
in the face of disaster and disappointment.
We wrap ourselves in it
as we put one foot in front of the other
to keep moving through endless days
of health, emotional, and financial challenges.
Hope can lead us to the
light at the end of the tunnel.
If the hoped for goal is not realized,
Hope weakens, thins, fades.
Yet, it takes so little to restart Hope:
~ a friend who listens and encourages
~ a small improvement in the problem
~ new interest that distracts from the problem.
The new interest can...
~resurect a skill or activity we once had time to enjoy
~lessen the grip of current circumstances
~reduce the tension that's kept our breathing shallow.
Is Hope a self-delusion?
Or is it hard-wired into us as a survival trait?
I don't know, but...
I can't quite give up on it.
2nd place winner
by RENEEILENE SPIRITWEAVER
Sometimes, I think I hear
the wind whisper, like an indrawn breath
or a dry leaf fall with the sound of a footstep
but when I turn, there’s no one there.
a shadow in the shadows
or someone...from the corner of my eye
but when I turn, there’s no one there.
a phantom touch
or someone near
but when I turn, there’s no one there.
Or did wishing make me sense you near?
The wish that when I turned, you would still be here.
In all of these stories Pandora willingly or innocently opens a jar or other container in which lie the evils or "Nosoi" of the world: illness, plague and disease. Once released these spirits fly out to inflict humanity with pain and suffering that continue to this day.
After the Nosoi have departed one spirit remains in the jar which is either reclosed or left ajar by Pandora. This is "Elpis"... Hope. Hope is all that is left to Pandora and she holds it closely to her in that vessel.
What is Hope? The Greeks often depicted Elpis as a young girl holding flowers. Youth and promise are symbolized in this. In Christianity Hope is one of the three great virtues: Faith, Hope and Charity/Love. Hope within this context is defined as "the expectation of and desire of receiving; refraining from despair and the capability of not giving up."
Hope is a child's first step, a seeded field and the continued heart beat "beep" registered on a monitor in a hospital room. It is prayers for the dead, prayers for the living and a prayer uttered in a deep breath as one's feet hit the floor in the morning during dark and difficult dawns. It is a hand reaching out in need during flood, fire and famine. It is often the one thing that stands against the worst that life and death have to bring us in this world filled with "Nosoi."
Hope is both a noun and a verb in English. It is a thing or feeling inside us that in itself nudges us to act. Hope is a seed planted that we must constantly nourish with a positive light, water with our tears and fertilize with mulched doubts. We hope and in hoping we move to make it so.
The English artist, George Frederic Watts, created a painting over 100 years ago which he called "Hope." You can see it online at:
In the painting a woman sits blindfolded and barefoot on a rock or orb amidst a sea or flood strumming the final string of the harp held in her arm. In spite of overwhelming affiction she continues to pluck that one string. She is hardly the Greek Elpis bearing flowers but she is as much a striking symbol of Hope as any other.
It is necessary to hope and act upon those hopes. A thousand food kitchens, ten thousand hospital rooms and 100,000 classrooms depend upon that harvest of hope in each of us in our thoughts, words and deeds.
Hope; and in hoping act; and in acting shed a bit of light on the path of another and on your own path as well.
My Avatar / My Self
by RENEEILENE SPIRITWEAVER
I was rezzed on August 1, 2009. At the time of this writing, I am about 3 months old, but I’ve done more in that 3 months than my human Alter Ego, Lisa, out there in RL, would have thought possible. It’s been one adventure after another, and that’s the word that has come to define my (second) life: Adventure.
You see, Lisa has a Panic Disorder. I won’t bore you with the clinical details, or disclose too much personal information about my human self, but suffice it to say that Anxiety Disorders make it very difficult to do things. She’d tell you, if she was in a bad mood, that she’s a coward, that’s she’s afraid to do everything. But I agree with her more when she’s feeling better about herself….who is more brave, someone who can climb a mountain just because it’s there? Or someone who has to fight themselves every time they have to do something? If it takes an effort of will just to do everyday stuff, than I think it’s pretty damn brave to still get up each and every day and go about your normal activities. To someone with emotional health issues, every day is the adventure. Imagine having to fight yourself every morning! Lisa is doing better than that, but still, it’s a challenge.
Which is where I come into the story. Three months ago, Lisa was taking a class in Second Life for Libraries, and so, she created me, and named me for someone who was very special to her who didn’t get a chance at a First Life. But I’m living a Second Life for more than my namesake. I’m giving Lisa a taste of the freedom she’d have without those pesky Panic Attacks.
She’ll laugh, and tell you to look up “Dissociation” in a medical dictionary, but we’ve talked about this, the two of us (as much as you can talk to the different parts of yourself). Am I the person that she wishes she were? Or am I the person she really is on the inside, under the Panic Disorder? Did I tunnel my way out and burst into this strange new world, eager to break free of the constrictions she finds in RL? I’ll laugh and tell her she thinks too much. Just shut up and enjoy it. That’s what I’m here for. I’m all about breaking boundaries. In the first three months of my (second) life, I’ve done so many things that she wouldn’t do in RL.
The places I’ve seen! I’ve climbed a Mayan pyramid in Mexico (and flown back down!). I’ve flown up to the top of the Eiffel Tower. I’ve had a Guinness in a pub in Dublin with a guy I just met. I saw China and Japan and India. I visited a museum in virtual Bucharest, the place where Lisa’s father grew up. I went surfing in Hawaii and rode a whale! I’ve taken a boat ride through Costa Rica. I’ve even gone back in time and out into space, where no human has gone before!
While we were looking for interesting sites in outer space, we found the Star Trek Museum and various Star Trek sims. That was a lot of fun! I picked up some free Starfleet uniforms and I even got her to unwind enough to buy me Klingon and Andorian appearances (avatars). Besides being Klingon, I can also be Andorian….or a: tiger, dolphin, cat, dog, a boy, a girl, a unicorn, a Pegasus, a butterfly, an Andorian and a Klingon! (Whew!) I found a really awesome Robot Museum, where you could sit on this platform and the wheels grind and turn you into a robot. How cool is that?!
I began volunteering for the Alliance Virtual Library and Rachelville and made some wonderful new friends who started to teach me the basics of building. I joined the SL synagogue and made a couple of friends there as well. I’ve gone to live readings and parties with fun themes over at the West of Ireland Library and gone clubbing and shopping with some of my new library friends. I’ve ridden a Jetski clear across three sims (and had it returned to me after Lisa had to reload SL – LOL – but what fun!).
Who knows what I’ll do next? Every day is an adventure in Second Life. And, of course, I’ve taken Lisa along for the ride. Whether I’m the real inner person or just a useful tool for escaping the constrictions of her Panic Disorder, we’ve had a great time together so far. And who knows, maybe someday soon, Lisa will find it easier to go out and do things without me! How’s that for hope?
1st Place Winner:
Angel of Death
2nd Place winner:
by RENEEILENE SPIRITWEAVER
"Do you want to wind up dead?"
The words stung almost as much as the mage bolts that followed, as Ilene's shields collapsed. Bolts still hot enough to singe her hair and leave tiny criss-cross scars on her bare arms.
"No." Ilene stammered. "Of course not." She was a bit intimidated by old Wizard Pietr. How she’d managed to get apprenticed to him was beyond her. She was hopeless, and she knew it.
Her thoughts were interrupted as the Wizard continued, "That's exactly how you’ll wind up….dead, if you let your shields collapse like that during a real battle."
She nodded glumly, and avoided his gaze.
Pietr put a gentle hand on her chin, raising the girls eyes to meet his. "You can do this. You have the knowledge; your technique is flawless. The energy is there. There’s nothing holding you back but yourself." But he could see she still didn’t understand. He dismissed her with a wave of his hand and an admonition to practice.
As soon as Ilene had closed the door behind her, Pietr levered himself out his chair. What was he going to do with her? He needed a second opinion. He took up his cloak as he left his cottage. A rough path led from the village through the forest that bordered it. He didn’t mind the walk, inhaling the fragrance of the forest, and exhaling a good deal of the tension the girl had brought out in him.
Renae's cottage was not far away and he was met at the door by Tigris, the Witch's familiar. He had known many familiars in his time, including his own, and though she talked to him rarely in her dry mindspeech, he knew the striped jungle cat with the
magnificent golden eyes had a fine sense of humor.
"Greeting, Tigris. You are well, I trust?" He reflected for a moment on how like she was to a cat, though he kept the thought very quiet in his mind. Like her lesser cousins, she liked an air of silent mystery. She nodded silently and led him around the cottage to the garden. There, he found the witch herself on her knees in among her plants, carefully snipping buds of the bitter-root herbs in her garden. After each snip, she placed a finger on the break and he could see, with his mage sight, a small green glow encompass her finger, and heal the break.
She looked up at his approach, and smiled in greeting. "Pietr…." She said, rubbing her soiled hands off on her apron, as she rose. "I wasn't expecting to see you today. Weren't you supposed to be training Ilene all afternoon?"
"That's why I wanted your advice. Can we talk…?"
Renae led Pieter inside her cottage, wiping the dirt from her garden off on her apron. Tigris stayed outside, and lay down in the heat from one of the hot springs. It wasn't until they were both seated and held cups of warm peppermint tea in their hands th at Renae asked, "Well?"
Pietr sighed, something he seemed to do often lately. "The girl just doesn't have faith in her own abilities. She’s afraid…of everything. She has the power, the skill, …." He described the problem. "I just don't know what to do with her."
"Well," Renae answered. "I never thought I'd live to see the day when Wizard Pietr admitted fallibility."
Pietr chuckled. "There's always a first time."
"I don't know…" Renae's eyes looked to the shared past. "I remember a young Wizard in training who was so confident in his own abilities that he proved his Masters wrong."
Pietr smiled. "They told me I couldn't do it, and I didn't believe them, so I did it."
Renae nodded. "Magic is funny that way. It only works if you believe in it. And it only works for you if you believe in yourself."
They sat silently for a few moments, remembering. There was a scratching at the door. It was Pietr's familiar, a Tree Wyrven, a dragon in miniature. Xaranthus was just as intelligent as Tigris, although his tendency to belch flame at unexpected moments irritated the jungle cat no end. He had singed her tail just the once, but that was all it took. He hopped in, blowing a ring of fire into the hearth which had been allowed to cool while the witch was outside. The puff of smoke which followed resulted in a few coughs, and Xaranthus peered over his shoulder to see if the witch had noticed. She had, of course, but hid her smile so the Wyrven wouldn't see. Xaranthus, like Pietr, sometimes had an air of inflated dignity.
When she looked up from the tea, she noticed Pietr's eyes were focused on the Wryven with a look on his face that had spelled trouble for many a master when they were young, and many an enemy when they were older.
"Oh, no." She said, "I know that look. What are you up to?"
Pietr leaned forward eagerly. "Magic only works if you believe in it.….."
By the time he finished explaining his idea, Renae was smiling too. They made their way back to find Ilene and send her off on her new assignment.
* * *
Ilene placed the cushion and her small pack beside the tree at the very top of overlook hill. When Wizard Pietr returned from his visit to his friend, the Hedge witch, she had expected to be turned out of her apprenticeship as the failure she knew she was. What she hadn't expected was this. The wizard told her it was time she called her familiar. Every witch or wizard had one but she knew she wasn't ready.
Ilene sat with her back to the tree. At first, all she could think of was the scratch on her shin, her bruised ankle, an itch on her nose, then her left leg. But soon, she began paying more attention to the forest around her: The wildlife that passed; the sound the wind made as it moved through the trees; the smell of woodsmoke drifting up from the village. Several hours passed before she noticed that the angry, fearful thoughts that churned around her mind constantly had been absent for some time. She wondered at that, but the forest captured her thoughts again. She watched the patterns of shadow shift. The fading light illuminated an autumn tree, and for a moment, it seemed engulfed in flame, and Ilene forgot even to breath.
The stillness of the forest filled her, and then she noticed a creature standing before her. Was this her spirit companion come at last? It was a stag, in full antler. She reveled in the creature's stillness and in the silence in her mind, when she felt something snap into place inside her. The magic flared once and enveloped her. The deer's head turned toward her as if he sensed the shift, and it ran off.
Ilene waited for the spike of fear that usually accompanied such a failure of her purpose, but it didn't come.
:Oh, it will come again: A small whisper echoed in the back of her mind.
"What?" She looked around, seeing a small brown rabbit sitting in front of her. Its nose twitched nervously.
:The fear, the doubt, it will come back. You'll never be completely free of it. And it may overwhelm you sometimes. But it will never conquer you. All you need to do is return here to the forest to find yourself again. To find hope and believe in yourself.:
"Are you my spirit guide?"
Its nose twitched again and it blinked. Looking quickly over at a sound to one side, then back at her. :Yes. You may call me what you will.: She hopped closer, and came to rest beside Ilene. The girl was only slightly surprised. She had thought for a moment, the deer… :The deer, all the creatures of the forest, have something to teach you. Stillness, for example. But you and I have something in common I think. We suit one another.:
Ilene felt in her mind this strange new sense of peace, and the growing bond between herself and this little creature beside her and knew its words to be true. She wondered what had taken so long for the creature to find her, to help her find her magic. As the sun sank beneath the horizon, and Ilene gathered up rabbit, cushion, and pack, the answer came. :I couldn't find you until you found yourself. After all, magic only works if you believe in it.