Those who follow this blog know that a few months ago a friend of mine passed away. He was a strong proponent of the Boy Scouts of America. It is also where we met. Within the Boy Scouts is an honor society with a dramatic selection process. Shortly after hearing of my friend’s passing, The following Short came to me and I thought I would share it.
The bonfire blazed before us, 1,000 strong. We stood in long lines and stared out across the still water of the lake. At the edge of the firelight, a war canoe slid silently toward shore. Four great warriors paddled in perfect rhythm. Their strong shoulders and backs propelled the canoe across the dark water. Another warrior, wearing a headdress made from eagle wing feathers, rode in the center. He stared forward, rigid as an oak tree.
When the canoe came into view, many among the 1,000 shifted on their feet and began to fidget as if the chief was staring directly at them. Some murmured to each other in low voices. I stood still with my Brother, proud and erect. We gave our highest respect and attention to the coming visitor. Together we awaited the arrival of the Great Chief.
The great canoe landed with a soft crunch. The four Warriors jumped from the canoe and pulled it up onto the shore. Then, as smoothly as a fish moves through the current, the Great Chief stood and stepped onto the land. Together, the five visitors moved to the bonfire. Dew claw rattles on their ankles signaled each step. Paint on their faces and arms created stern visages in the firelight. The Great Chief’s arms were folded before him as he took position opposite us on the far side of the fire.
The Warrior to the right of the Great Chief stepped forward.
All movement and sound stopped.
All eyes were on the Warrior as his eyes swept across the 1,000. I dared to look him in the eye as his gaze fell on me and passed on. I reminded myself to breathe.
The Warrior looked at the Great Chief. Though nothing was said and the Great Chief did not move, The Warrior nodded.
The four Warriors broke off. One stood to the side at the far edge of the firelight. The other three moved to the end of the first row. They began to move slowly along the row. The Warriors looked straight ahead and seemed to pay no attention to the 1,000 who stood straight as Lodgepole Pine trees.
Suddenly, two Warriors fell upon one of the 1,000. They grabbed him and quickly pulled him out of line. Their steps were so rapid that the Chosen one was dragged, unable to keep up. The Warriors took the Chosen one to stand before the Great Chief.
The Great Chief unfolded his arms and placed his hands on the Chosen’s shoulders. Their eyes met and a moment past. Then the Great Chief’s right hand raised up and came down hard on the Chosen’s shoulder. The sound of flesh meeting flesh cracked across the firelight. Three times the Great Chief’s hand struck the Chosen. After the third blow, the Great Chief crossed his arms. The two Warriors again, grabbed the Chosen and took him to stand beside the single Warrior at the edge of the firelight. The Warriors returned to the line and continued along until another of the 1,000 was chosen and dragged before the Great Chief. The ritual was repeated as the Warriors worked their way along the lines of the 1,000.
My heart pounded in my ears as the Warriors approached. They stepped in front of me and seemed to hesitate. They turned as one and grabbed my Brother. By reflex I stepped forward to protect him. A glare from one of the Warriors froze me in place. I was knocked aside as they dragged my Brother to stand before the Great Chief. After he was taken to stand with the other Chosen, I waited, expecting the warriors to return and take me.
When they did not, shock and self-doubt swept over me. Was I not worthy? Had I not proven myself throughout my life? Had I broken the code that all humans must live by. I again stood as before and silently called to the Warriors to return and take me to my Brother. Tears formed and rolled down my face. But the Warriors continued to walk along the lines of the 1,000, taking few to be tapped out.
When the Warriors had reached the end of the long lines created by the 1,000, Two returned to stand with the Great Chief. Two stood with the Chosen, now a score strong. The chosen were led off beyond the firelight where they disappeared into the darkness.
Those of us who remained looked to the Great Chief.
A voice, deep and powerful yet gentle sounded in my head.
“It is not your time my son. It will come soon enough. You have much yet to do. Go now and live well, love one another, and be strong.”
My tears stopped and I stood straighter. “Be strong,” I repeated to myself.
The Great Chief and his two Warriors returned to the canoe and paddled into the mists of the lake.
I whispered to the darkness beyond the firelight, “I will see you at the great council fire, Brother. But, not yet.”
By Dennis Langley