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Madeleine Schor, 13 (Palo Alto, CA)

Awareness, Reflection... Awareflectness!

Madeleine Schor, 13

I have a particularly vivid memory from last autumn. While tidying up my room, something unexpected caught my eye. It was an eerie morning. A newborn day, holding fresh potential, yet also carrying the threat of losing itself to the sea of all the days before it in that somber year, 2020. Out of the blue, I found my old memory box. Ooh, I thought, I haven’t looked through this in a while. The top slid open easily, and my Halloween costume from three years ago overflowed in a pile in front of me. At that time, I was going through a Harry Potter phase, and that year I had dressed up as a golden phoenix. Finding the costume was strange since I didn’t remember putting it in my memory box: it was almost as if it had been waiting for me. I smiled to myself.

The golden phoenix is said to be the most prominent symbol of change and rebirth. When the time comes, a phoenix dies in a brilliant show of fire and ashes. The descendant of the original phoenix rises from its ancestor’s ashes, stronger than before, and the circle of life continues. Finding my costume made me think about how much the world has changed over the last three years. This time of year, kids of all ages used to go door to door and trick-or-treat on Halloween with their friends. With our new normal, Halloween will be very different, and I am still trying to wrap my head around how it might look. This season also typically brings anticipation for the holidays and gathering and celebrating with family. With the current COVID-19 pandemic, that will be strange this year.

Speaking of strange... Wednesday, September 9th, as you may remember, was the day when the skies were heavy with darkness. Some people referred to this mysterious episode as “Doom's Day." I don’t know about you, but I had a hunch that there was a deeper, more spiritual meaning behind the physical darkness outside my window. Something besides the smoke from the wildfires.

I went about my day attending Zoom classes for school, noticing that the day started to look more and more like night. As I was writing my heart out in an assignment for my humanities class, I heard some commotion in our hallway. Tipping toes and whispering voices filled our house. I tried to ignore it for a long while, but couldn’t help wonder, What is going on? I closed my laptop and pushed my chair away from my desk. As I opened my door, I heard a word that had never been uttered inside our home before. “Snake.”

I walked out and saw my mom with an expression of shock written all over her face. “Snake! It’s a snake! Right here, in our hallway. Someone must have left the door open!” And, as if on cue, a long, slim, gray body started making its way gracefully across the floor. Wait, was this thing real? Is this a prank? But, as I got closer, I could tell from its smooth, slithering movements that it was very much real... and alive... and moving – with purpose.

There was something different about this creature. Something ethereal. She (or he?) was in no particular rush to go back outside. Not a dangerous type either, luckily. Most snakes that I’ve seen up close coil up, ready to strike. But no, this snake was peacefully slithering about, minding its own business, checking out the room and the vibe. I was not afraid of this slender serpent. However, the world seemed to slow before my eyes. I thought this whole scenario playing out in front of me was splendidly curious! This was turning out to be an even stranger day than I could have ever imagined. I peeked outside and noticed that the skies had turned ever more dark and fiery orange. Still, my intuition was telling me this was a sign of something with great importance. But what?

Later that day, after we gently escorted the snake out of the house (it crawled up in one of my childhood toys, seemed comfortable there, and was taken out with the toy), I was curious and researched what snakes may symbolize. According to some ancient beliefs, snakes may be signs of change and rebirth. That makes sense, I thought to myself. They do shed their skin and transform.

That day, I was stunned by a small-boned creature with a significant amount of purpose. It made me realize that these challenging times have allowed ALL of us, who were very busy before, to pause due to microscopically tiny organisms with tremendous amounts of power. As we have learned how to reorganize our lives into a new normal, each day often presents us with a new set of challenges, and they bring us a reason to reflect. Every day is unique. There may be a stronger feeling of being “out of control." However, each day holds many blessings in its heart. Even simple things in life—the sun rising, birds singing, a breeze of clean air, unexpected visitors—enrich our lives. We are all lucky to be here, on Earth, in this wonderful human community. We could call this type of change and rebirth – awareness and reflection – awareflectness. I like that.

Not every sign has to be life-changing. For example, every day has a beginning and an end. Yesterday, the sunset brought the day to a peaceful end. This morning. the sunrise unveiled a new beginning, encouraging us to make this day better than the last. Later today, the sun will set, hopefully leaving us feeling strong and accomplished with how we have grown.

Sometimes we are too preoccupied to recognize what the world may be trying to tell us. Sometimes, the signs are subtle. For instance, the whispers outside my door when I was writing that day. They were alerting me that there was an unexpected visitor in the house. Intuition, spirituality, do not always come in the form of a snake or a "doomsday glow," but they are always there. Some signs in our everyday lives are easily dismissed. We can live in awe if we truly pause and acknowledge the signs, or we may disregard them if we are too wrapped up in our own thoughts. Sometimes I wish we could all be like the serpent in my story, peacefully slithering about, checking out the world that is at our fingertips. Moving with purpose, yet taking time to smell the roses. Shedding our stress and frustration and transforming into our new selves – a self that lives with more awareflectness.

The challenges we have faced during these past months have given us a new and uniquely colored lens from which we see the world. Let’s recognize that each day is valuable. Let's slow down and cherish every moment in its present time. Let's notice signs—really see them, ponder their meaning. When we focus on the past, there might be a feeling of powerlessness with what we may not have accomplished. And, when we focus on the future, it can be a formula for becoming overwhelmed. However, when we live one day at a time – mindfully – we put energy into knowing that something larger than us guides us and provides us with clues and paths. We can take time to count our blessings and recognize new opportunities that may come our way.

So, I ask you to slow down and take advantage of this unique, and truly strange time. Consider making a change by trying to slow down. Become more aware and reflect mindfully. Treasure each day, because this day will never happen again. I am hopeful for our future, and that like the phoenix, we will rise out of the ashes even stronger than we were before the hardships that we have been enduring for nearly two years now. We are lucky, as we have the potential of a sacred and loving human community to support us through any challenging times that may come.

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