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Student Writings
Home > Students > Current Students > Student Writings

a journal of poetry and fiction

Chief Editor: Jake Holden
Artist: Dmitry Itzkovich


Table of Contents

"YOU BROKE MY HEART IN HALF" by YELENA KUSHMAKOVA

"JOURNEY OF LOVE" by HUMA RANA

"END OF THE WORLD" by YELENA KUSHMAKOVA

"THE GREAT ONES AMONG US" by RUSSEL KEISER

"STRANGER" by LUIS JUCA

"UNTITLED" by SLAVA TVERSKOY

"FRIENDSHIP" by ZINA KHAIMOVA

"A BLEND OF COLORS" by YELENA FAZILOV

"A BIT OF HAPPINESS" by GEORGE MEDVEDKOV

"YOU AND I" by YELENA KUSHMAKOVA

"THE STRUGGLE TO MOVE AHEAD" by RUSSEL KEISER

"FAST TIMES AT THE NEW AGE SPA" by NATALYA SHIYAN

"SEASONS OF HOPE"
by ZINA KHAIMOVA

"FACING REALITY" by RUSSEL KEISER

"THE LEAP"
by HIRAM MARTINEZ

You are the one who took my heart away; You are the one who broke my heart in half; You are the one who played with my feelings; And I never explained any of the meanings.

You told me that you loved me; You told me that you cared; You told me you would fight for me; And instead just broke my heart in half.

You are the one I trusted completely; You are the one who walked away; You are the one I thought who cared;
And promised that this would never end.

Now I've got it; something had to happen; Now it's time to realize the loss; Now it's time to let you go And you and I are now apart.

For me it will be hard to forget; For me it will be hard to watch you go; For me it will be hard to tell you; And let you know that I am hurt.

"Journey of Love" by Huma Rana

Memories of ten years ago came flashing back to me as I stood facing this stranger. My husband was introducing us as though we were meeting for the first time. He had called him the best web designer for children seeking medical help. I must have seemed rude, the way I was staring at him so blankly, but I couldn't help myself. Feelings of hurt and betrayal, mixed with the anxiety of my husband finding out the only thing I had ever kept from him raked my heart with desperation and fear.
My husband and I are the best of friends. We share many common interests but we aren't afraid to disagree with each other. My husband is one of the kindest men I know. We have been married for nine years now, and I can't remember him ever being cross with me. He is a pediatric surgeon at the Hospital of Special Surgery in New York. I work part time as the creative director at an advertising. I do most of my work at home.
We have two sons who are our pride and joy. They fill my heart with so much love that sometimes it frightens me to imagine how incomplete my life would be without them. The eldest, Safshan, is seven. He is shy, though he's a very bright student in his class. My little one, Wali, is the exact opposite of his brother. He is the naughtiest little three-year-old I've ever seen; wherever he goes, trouble seems to follow him. Throwing his toys and picking fights with his older brother seem to be his favorite things to do. I sometimes feel like running after the children, doing housework, and trying to keep up at work take more energy than I've got. But the thought of not being able to function only makes me laugh at myself.
My husband and I didn't really know each other before we were married. We certainly weren't in love. In fact, we had hardly spoken more than a couple of sentences together. We are from the Middle East, where marriage is a must, yet it is little more than a civilized compromise. "Love will come with time and understanding shall mature with patience," my mother had told me the day we were married. But I have never regretted my decision to marry Faiz for an instant. He has made me feel like the most cherished woman in the world. He has given me a beautiful home, two lovely children, and the love I never thought possible.
I had always thought my life was completely wonderful, and wonderfully complete, until that late March evening. I was taking a nap and having some strange dream when I was startled by the telephone. I woke with my heart racing and my body shaking, and my voice squeaked a bit as I muttered "hello" into the mouthpiece. It was Faiz, calling to tell me that we'd be having company for dinner.
I didn't mind the short notice and began preparing the meal. He usually comes home at six, so I had well over an hour to get everything ready. I tried my best to occupy myself with getting dinner, but I couldn't shake the feeling of uneasiness gnawing at the pit of my stomach.
Just over an hour later, I was standing face to face with what might have been my sweetest dream or my worst fear; I didn't know which. My husband was introducing me to a man with a slightly grim expression that changed to outright grief when he recognized me. For a moment, I lost my balance and had to grab the doorknob to keep from falling. He quickly hid his reaction, and did his best to pretend we were really meeting for the first time. I stared at him blankly while my husband raved about what an excellent program he had designed to help the kids at the hospital, and what a devoted man he was. Faiz was so proud to be meeting the man who had shown such generosity towards his own cause. "How lucky we are to have you in our home as a guest and future friend," he exclaimed with glee.
A friend. The words brought me back to the same kind of cold March evening, when this same man, who had once been the sole reason for my happiness, had told me he thought we should be "friends." After five years of being hopelessly in love, regardless of the fact that we could never marry. One day, he just decided for the both of us that we should merely be friends and walked out of my life, saying he couldn't leave his family to make a family with me. "It would be too much to lose, all of my loved ones for the love of you," he explained. Apparently, my love wasn't enough.
He had told me to try talking with the man my parents had chosen for me. "It will make your life easier in the future," he calmly retorted when I cried and begged to know why he'd decided to turn his back on me.
The time passed. Days turned into weeks, and weeks into months. He tried to come back to me, saying he missed me. But by then it was too late. My heart had hardened into cold stone after all the months of crying and sleepless nights.

This man, whom I had loved more than I loved myself, sat at my dinner table speaking with my husband about terminal illnesses. He made small talk with me, telling me how lucky I was to have such a brilliant man for my life partner, and not sounding the least bit remorseful. I couldn't tell what he felt for me now from his collected manner. At one point, he turned to my son and asked what his name was and what grade he was in. "My name is Safshan and I'm in the second grade," my son replied shyly. His face fell when he heard the boy's reply. "Safshan," he mumbled he mumbled pensively. "Do you know what it means?" he asked my son.
"Mommy's favorite," said Safshan.
Hassan glanced at Faiz briefly and realized that no one in the room knew what the word meant beside he and I. You see, "Safshan" means "beautifully crafted delicate fantasy" in Persian. The look on his face in that moment made me realize that he still felt love for me. I can't say exactly how I knew. But I knew.
I used to call my love for him "safshan" and he simply laughed at me. But he wasn't laughing now. "It's a creative name," he said, his eyes locking with mine for a brief moment. But that moment was enough for him to see that I no longer harbored any feelings for him. My love had moved on to my husband, with whom I had come to share every aspect of my life. Perhaps I had made a separate place in my heart for him-for no Arab man takes lightly a woman who has loved another man-but it was the first place nevertheless. And then, there were my two adoring children who counted on their mother always to be there. How could I betray their trust?
My distance startled him as I asked about his wife and why he had not brought her with him. His answer, however, surprised me.
"I never married." I was flabbergasted. He had left me because his mother had chosen a bride for him whom he had to marry, otherwise his family would disown him. "I can't bear to live without them; maybe I am just too used to my life and I can't bear to leave it," he had said before he left me. And yet, he had never married.
"Why?" I asked. I tried not to sound harsh, but tears seemed to be filling my throat. My husband looked up and appeared to be waiting for an answer just as much as me. But it was mere curiosity written in his expression; meanwhile, I awaited the answer to a question that represented the whole inertia of ten years of denying a love I never had. Maybe he never loved me at all, I used to tell myself whenever his memory crossed my mind.
"The girl I loved was a dream, in every sense of the word," he began. "She lived in a world of fantasy, where love was reason enough for our being together. But I knew better. She had this fire about her, as if she could conquer the world. I didn't want that fire to die out. I was a poor artist, what could I give her? Love lasts only so long, you know, and I was used to seeing only love in her eyes. I used to tell her she was made to love; she could love anyone and they'd love her back. So I let her go to seek a life where I knew love awaited her."
He excused himself as soon as he finished talking, before I had a chance to ask anything else. He said he had to call his mother overseas. So little had changed. He still avoided confrontations. He was still devoted to pleasing his mother. Yet one thing had changed; I had never seen remorse on his face before this. That was all I saw as he bid us farewell and told us we were the happiest and most complete family he had met in a long time.
I never saw him after that, but my heart is at peace now. I realized that my love hadn't died all those years ago. It had simply found a different means of expression-as a wife, as a companion, as an artist, and-my greatest joy-as a mother. Even though I hadn't changed, my way of looking at love had. I realized that it never stop s growing, that it has no boundaries. And I realized that night that people never replace each other; they simply find separate places in one another's hearts.

"End of the World" by Yelena Kushmakova

People hungry, people thirsty, People suffering for their lives. People killing, people stealing, Just to comfort their hearts. People angry at each other, People getting into fights, People killing not to suffer From the pain within their hearts.

This world is worse and more insane, I guess we're coming to the end Because we're causing so much pain
And destroying our land. People suffer, people die From the pain that they face; Well, I can see the world is ending
Just to stop the dying race.

"The Great Ones Among Us" by Russel Keiser


They stand alone With no peers beside them. Some say God himself blesses them. Others say it's only chance That makes them great.

Somehow, he never was. Destiny had lost its way to him. Before its path could be changed, It forgot the way back
To this would-be-great man.

In the end, He was no different From any of us, Just another number, A stat on a page Showing his likeness to others. Having lived his life As one of us, He realized he had more In common with us. He realized only good prevails. When it was time to die, He said, "you cannot be a great man If you're not a good man."

"Stranger" by Luis Juca

It would be very unusual if there were a house without a television, especially in New York, nowadays. However, we can find people who only watch it once in a while, or not at all. All of them have their reasons. I also have mine. I don't watch TV very often because when it came into our home 15 years ago, it connected the members of my family to the rest of the world. But it disconnected us from one another.
There was a time when we used to sit around the table at dinner time and talk about each other's problems; sharing them made it easier to carry on. We also gave words of comfort when the sorrow was big enough to make us cry, and we laughed when it went away. The place where I was born didn't have any electricity until I was thirteen. I grew up lighting candles every night. If I had to walk at night, the stars and moon were the only ones who showed me the way. As a child, I loved to walk during a full moon. And sometimes, I walked alone on the darkest nights. My body would shake and my mind would wonder if something was about to creep up on me. If my dog was not with me, I would bring a sheep or cow to keep me company. There were also nights when the fireflies lit my way. There were so many of them, they seemed like the lights of a city at night.
As a child, I also played in my imagination with the stories that my parents and my grandmother told me. I never got tired of listening to them, even though I had heard them over and over. My grandmother was an expert at telling them. She had a voice like a love song, as smooth as a ride in the car of the year. She would tell a story and I would create ten from it. The characters of those stories became my playmates. Her stories all began with, "Once there was a man named Pedro. He was a little crazy. He had a brother who used to work very hard to support his family. He also had a mother who was very sick. . . ." From time to time, she would forget her lines. I would be so frustrated that I would say, 'And then what happened?" She had no choice but to make something up or I wouldn't go to sleep. My Mom also told us a lot of stories, especially at dinnertime when the whole family was together. None of us would say a word until she got to the end.
After I finished junior high school, we had to move from the small town where everyone knew us to a city full of strangers. I still played a lot with my imagination in those days. But I was also introduced to an object that showed me things I had never seen, places I had never been, and people whom I had never met. It was the television. There were not many of them in town. I had to go very early on Sunday mornings to the TV and radio repair shop to reserve a place to watch soccer at noon. Then one day, my friend Michael got one. I started to go every night and watch it until two o'clock in the morning. I especially loved the scary movies. I thought someone was going to get me when I turned off the lights to sleep.
But at some point, my perspective on life began to change. I stopped going to visit my grandmother as I used to. I began feeling guilty for what was happening to poor children in other parts of the world. "Don't throw away food because of these children in need," the TV would tell us, as the image of a dirty, sick, skinny child passed across the screen. I began to wonder if I was as good looking as those men on the TV, and if my clothes were as beautiful as theirs. My friends and I stopped creating our own stories. We didn't talk about our families either. Instead, we believed that those stories they used to tell us were stupid, and as old as the person who told them. We were more interested in He-Man, the Pink Panther, and Batman.
I was 15 when my father got a TV. It was the end of the most precious moments we had as a family until then. There were no more conversations after dinner. We just sat around the TV and watched silently until we were sleepy. No one was allowed to say a word. We fought over which program to watch. I loved soccer but everyone else loved series. Family matters became so boring that I didn't even want to listen to them. We would go into the living room as soon as we finished dinner, and Mom and Dad would be left alone in the dining room. From time to time, they would fight and we couldn't understand why. How could we have understood when on TV life was so beautiful, so perfect; it was a paradise. We became people who lived in the same house but didn't really know each other.
I was twenty when I finally learned to think, listen, and look at things objectively. I realized that we had been brainwashed by the people responsible for the programming. I realized that they were teaching us how to think, act, dress, react, what to buy and so on. In other words, they were shaping us exactly as they wanted us to be. I felt manipulated since I believed that a person has to have his own rules for living, his own way of thinking, and especially his own way of relating to the world.
When I first came to this country, I was frustrated that I couldn't escape to the TV. It seemed that there couldn't be a better place in the world, that it was not only a form of entertainment but a necessity. After a long tiring day of work, I felt like I had to watch it. I would get upset because the police had beaten some poor innocent on the street, or some lunatic pushed someone else onto the train tracks. The world seemed so unjust that I felt my hands were tied, as if I were in a madhouse.
One day, I said to myself, 'What would my world be like without TV?" I started to work on it. Since I had never bought a TV, it wasn't hard. I stopped visiting my friends as often as I used to. When I did, we couldn't have a conversation unless the TV was off. I also began to say, 'Why should I feel worried or guilty about something I am not part of' I understand that I am also human and I have to care for these people. Unfortunately, I can only do that with the ones who are near me. Can I help the people who are being killed by some maniac in the East or the West or anywhere else? No. I can only feel sorry for them. And not even that will help them."
Three and a half years ago, I went to school to learn English. I thought it would help to have a TV. As soon as I found one on the street, I took it. But my days were full and I didn't have time to watch it. I was working from eight to six or seven every day, and then from eight to ten, I had to be in school. Suddenly, a year had gone by, and I had only been watching TV every twenty days or so. During this time, I remembered my father saying over dinner, "You have to respect people. If a hungry person comes to your home, give him something to eat. Someone else may do it for you or your children some day." I also remember my mom saying, "One day, you'll get out of this house and you will have your own family and then you will forget us. I hope that you'll take care of us when we are older." And my grandmother, "Once there was a beautiful girl. . . ." We were a very close family until that stranger came into our house.
I miss my family a lot now. I don't know how we could have wasted so much time paying attention to an object and not to one another. The real world was transformed into fantastic one.
I am not saying that TV is a bad thing to have,, especially in this age. We need faster ways of communicating, and especially in a city like New York, people need distractions. But I don't like it because of the fascination created by every word and image presented on the TV. I don't like it because its programming is not intended to help people think freely and objectively. Instead, it urges people to think someone else's way, to do what someone else wants them to. I am not going to allow them to do that to me. I know that I'm going against the grain. I don't have children yet, but when I do, I won't allow them to watch it very often. My family was taken away from me when it got into our home. That will not happen with mine. "Untitled" by Slava Tverskoy

When the crowd is in power, humans are governed by fear. When the church is in power, humans are governed by superstition. When the state is in power, humans are governed by threat.

For humans to live in meaningful harmony Ignorance must be transformed into wisdom. Superstition into nlightened faith, Fear into love, Love into love. When beauty is in power, It needn't be transformed into anything. It is bigger than genius And doesn't require understanding.

"Friendship" by Zina Khaimova

Friendship drawn on the beach Is destroyed by the waves. Friendship cradled in the branches of trees Is destroyed by the wind. Friendship drawn on a rock Is destroyed by time. But the friendship drawn in your heart And in mine will never change, ever."A Blend of Colors" by Yelena Fazilov

What kind of world would it be If everyone here looked like me? With colors and faces all the same And everyone with my own name? Thank God the world is a different place- And what I imagine is not the case- With many colors and different faces, With varying traditions and different races. For though we differ in creed and name In many ways we're all the same- We must help each other when we fall To thrive together or not at all. I feel that it's a command from God To live together in harmony and love.


"A Bit of Happiness" by George Medvedkov

A few months ago, I was getting ready to go back to school and decided to stop at the Office Max for some stationary before dropping by the college to check on my file with the International Students Department. As an immigrant, I didn't have access to checks and credit cards like the average American shopper. I had to use cash.
So there I was at the Office Max, engrossed in picking out the stuff I wanted and not keeping track of how much all those things would cost. When I was finally finished and strolled towards the register, a strange feeling of doubt began to fill my head. It did not leave me even when I opened my wallet, revealing a considerably thick wad of bills. The wad looked sufficient not only to me, but also to the salesgirl, so she carelessly rang up the purchase. The register beeped and whirred, and I found that I was a dollar short.
I even collected all the change in my pocket, but there still wasn't enough to make up that dollar. The cashier looked at me half sympathetically, half with growing annoyance after I confessed my sin to her. "You're one dollar short," she said. My face probably didn't show that her words had registered, and she repeated, "One dollar."
Indeed, my face must have been blank, since all I could process was the trouble that was impending. I had never been in this situation before. My mind was racing and I began to feel dizzy. It would have been no big deal were it not for my excessive sensitivity, my inability to handle situations that threatened my pride. All I could do was just stand there waiting for a miracle. It was then I saw a hand pass a dollar bill to the cashier. "Here," I heard a female voice. I looked up to see who it belonged to. It was another salesgirl standing beside my cashier. Her eyes and her smile seemed to say, "This could happen to anyone. We have to help each other out." She didn't actually say anything, but those words resonated distinctly in my mind. I was stunned and it took me a few seconds to regain my composure and say something.
"Sorry. Sorry and thank you very much," I mumbled. Then I grew more confident. "Look, I'll pay you back. I'll be here tomorrow and bring you the dollar, OK"?
She smiled, waved her hand and said, "Don't worry. It's all right." Those sweet words and the way she said them stunned me more than the first time. I stood there and just gazed at her, unable to comprehend the act of helping, all crumbling inside before this face that was wearing the contented expression of a pure giver. Finally, I scooped up my stuff, took the receipt, and headed for the exit. Wild thoughts kept racing through my mind. More than once, I had been told that nobody would give me anything here. "Nothing is free in New York," everyone said. And every so often I faced a situation that testified to the accuracy of this saying. But that day proved to me that there are actually people who are willing to help strangers. To help without looking for profit, credit, or even a promise to return the favor.
At the same time, I kept asking myself why on earth I had gone out without a sufficient amount of money. I was so overwhelmed with my mishap that I couldn't stop blaming myself and started thinking about different ways of paying. Meanwhile, one of them was lying right there in my pocket. Upon discovering it, I realized how stupid I had been not to think of it before. An ATM card. A simple piece of plastic, the mere thought of which made me a few thousand dollars richer.
I was already on my way to college when I realized I could return the money so kindly given. I was becoming more like the average American consumer, though, because the significance of a dollar was beginning to decrease in my eyes. A rational voice had started buzzing in my mind. "Who cares? It was only a dollar. She won't die without it." But, at the same time, another thought, a brand new one, penetrated my head: Money, especially when it's lent in an emergency, should be returned. More important, I heard a little voice whispering to me, "If a good deed is to be done, it is unwise to postpone it."
With these two ideas fighting in my head, I kept walking absentmindedly, although I felt as though I were being led somewhere. It took me a few more minutes to figure out where I was headed. The sight of it muzzled the rational voice. I was standing in front of the tallest building in Brooklyn, the Republic National Bank.
The ATM machine flashed the prompts across its screen, hummed merrily for a moment, and out came a crisp new twenty. I rushed to the nearest store to break it, and in a few minutes I was running back to the Office Max with the dollar in my hand.
The girl I was looking for was not at the register, so it took me a little while to find her, surrounded by boxes with some equipment. I drew closer to her. She looked up at me and my hand stretched out with the dollar. "Thank you so very much," I said. "I am truly sorry." And then I added, "God loves you."

She must have said something-at least her lips moved-but I could not make out the words. The whole line of registers dashed past my eyes as I headed for the exit. "That guy came back," was all I heard from her. Those words were probably addressed to the cashier who had served me in the first place, because I also heard her exclaim something in amusement.
I left the store, happy as I had never been before, as if I had been lent a million rather than a single dollar. Indeed, there was something more to what was exchanged between the two of us that day. I witnessed the pure desire to help a stranger; that dollar was a token of true kindness. Had it not been a dollar but something more or less valuable, it wouldn't have mattered a bit.
The event is still alive in my memory and vivid in every detail because it taught me two things that I will never forget: first, it does not take a fortune to make someone happy, and secondly, it is always rewarding to help others when we have the opportunity. I saw the happy face of that girl, and since then I've experienced the same feeling when I started to care a little more about the people around me. I cannot help but cite the following words from the Bible: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
I still wonder if I made too big a deal out of something that is likely to happen in everyone's life. Sometimes I ask myself whether I simply acted on an impulse. Perhaps if I had been in a hurry, I wouldn't have wasted my time, which could have turned out badly for me. For nothing could have replaced the joy of exchanging an act of kindness that day. "If a good deed is to be done, it is unwise to postpone it." Indeed it is.

"You and I" by Yelena Kushmakova

That was the day when you and I Saw each other for the first time. You looked at me in a strange way But there was nothing yet to say. When we saw each other once again, You asked my name, asked how old I am; You looked at me, deep into my eyes, But you could never realize


My heart, from the first time I saw you, Was pumping. And that time I knew That you weren't just another guy,
That you would be someone special in my life.

I am afraid to show you all my feelings Because you might not understand their meanings; I want to tell you to hold me tight and never let go, And yes, it's my fault that I don't let you know. You are trying to show me that you care, But I'm so afraid and I know that I'm not fair. I hope you'll be here for some time, But who knows what will happen between you and I.

I hope you'll win my heart away And you and I will stay that way. Just be with me and hold me tight Until the end of a million burning candle lights.


"The Struggle to Move Ahead" by Russel Keiser

There comes a time when every man stops. Every man, no matter how strong he is, breaks. When he reaches the point where his Journey is far from his goals. When the road back seems such a short distance, And the road ahead seems non-existence. When every path seems to be blocked By obstacles and confusion. He celebrates each day at finding a new path, Even though it leads nowhere like the rest. After a while the walking tries him to the point Where all he can think about is going back.


"Fast Times at the New Age Spa" by Natalya Shiyan

I have always been a city girl. I think that if I had to spend more than three days in the country, I would die of boredom. In Belarus, I lived in Minsk, the capital of the country, and enjoyed a busy life of urbanity. New York excites me even more with its multicultural identity and fame.
However, even I get the urge to escape from the madness of the city and unite with nature once in a while. So my boyfriend gave me a treat for Easter-a weekend at a New Age Spa. It is only two hours from New York, but set on 230 private acres, you feel a thousand miles away from civilization.
During my stay, I started off with a massage and then tried out the water aerobics in the crystal-blue indoor pool. After swimming a few laps, I headed for the sauna and checked out the lounge in the solarium with its panoramic view. The second day, I rose early for a New Age ritual-the daily three-mile walk. Afterward I did a yoga class. By then, I had worked up a healthy appetite for breakfast. The dining room was the place where people socialized and shared their experiences at the Spa. Since there weren't any assigned tables, I would share every meal with someone different, and by the end of the week, I felt like I knew everybody.
Every minute of my stay there was filled with activities, but the most memorable was the sweat lodge. I read about it on the message board one morning. Although it sounded a bit exhausting, I thought, we only live once and I can't miss something like that. The sweat lodge is a tradition of Native Americans who would get rid of evil spirits and different illnesses by sweating naked in a tent which is heated with rocks. It is supposed to be a very mysterious and spiritual procedure and I was looking forward to it. Sweat lodges are only held on the night of a full moon, so I was lucky to catch the right weekend for it. The spa instructors warned us to eat a light meal; otherwise, it would be hard to make it through four rounds of sweating.
Everyone gathered in the living room of the main building at 8:00PM. We were told to wear nothing but bathrobes and take off all jewelry and watches since "they would get very hot." I couldn't believe that they encouraged us to strip naked during this procedure, but they said it was going to be so dark and hot that we decided to do it anyway. The excitement grew, and since we were all wearing the spa's white bathrobes, we looked like a secret mission group about to go out on assignment. At 8:15 we walked outside.
The lodge had been built the day before by the spa's employees and a Native American who was in charge of it. We had to go up and then down a hill in the dark, and I felt like I was in a movie, walking in a group of people in white clothing, none of us having any clue about what was going to happen. Finally, we saw a big campfire, surrounded by people with drums and rattles who started to make all kinds of strange noise and movement as we approached. I had to keep from laughing when we all joined them and tried to learn an Indian song. Gathering from the price of the spa and the expensive cars in the lot, there were some very successful people in the crowd, but at the time, they all looked pretty bizarre, rocking back and forth and singing some nonsense. At the time, we were all "children of the earth."
No one even complained when we were told to take our shoes off and walk on he cold wet ground around the fire. Then, one by one, we got into the tent filled with sweet-scented hay. In the middle of the tent stood a stand to hold the hot stone, but the stones were still in the fire outside. After each of us had found a place to sit, the yoga instructor started to bring stones in on a shovel. Each stone had a different meaning, and the first round would require only seven. After the last stone had been placed carefully on the stand, the flap was shut and we were immersed in complete darkness...
It was getting warmer and warmer every minute, but after a barefoot walk around the campfire, it felt nice. During the first round, we all picked Indian names for ourselves-I was Daughter of the East-and talked about our lives. The Native American kept pouring water over the hot stones and the tent filled with steam. Still, the first round was short and easy, and we all made it. The second round required seven more stones, and each time a new one was brought in, a wave of heat would wash over us. Hmmmm . . . I don't remember the second round very clearly, but it was the last one for most of the people (me included). It was so hot and dark and steamy, I thought I would get broiled like a lobster. It was a long, long round with people breathing hard and talking more to take their minds off the heat. However no one left in the middle of the round. We all stuck together in this tradition of torture.
When the tent flap was finally opened and the cool air came rushing into our human oven, we came crawling out, sweating and smiling. Nobody said, "Boy, what a mistake that was!" We felt surprisingly light and close to each other. Looking at each other with understanding, we found our shoes, toweled off, and slowly walked back to the campus. Only one couple stayed for all four rounds, along with the instructors, of course.
I felt like a newborn when I woke up next morning. My skin was glowing, I was full of energy, and I was in a great mood. I wanted to dance and share my joy with the world, and I wish I could feel this way more often. During breakfast we couldn't stop talking about the sweat lodge and our improved well-being. There must be something in that ritual that Indians have known for centuries. There is something in overcoming difficulty together that unites people and gives them a sense of accomplishment. I think it is this which made our experience so worthwhile.

"Seasons of Hope" by Zina Khaimova

The blowing leaves of autumn, The mellow sun of spring, The bitter cold of winter, The fun and sunshine summer bring; When I imagine you with me, I think of that beautiful diamond ring, So as these seasons pass, I know, in time, We'll share the happiness that you bring.

"Facing Reality" by Russel Keiser

There is an element in life we must come to accept. There isn't any other way to look at this. Yet, some of us still don't face up to this fact. Why are people so afraid to look at themselves in the mirror, and speak the name they see? Why do they cover it up by placing masks over themselves? It's as if they believe those masks aren't transparent. When all the world sees right through.

What is this magic spirit they try to avoid? It's nothing more than how we all live. It's called reality. It exists in the opposite direction of fantasy land. And always one step before despair. I guess if you avoid reality you can't approach despair. Until one day, you wake up and board the wrong train. Then you're trapped in despair, just because you couldn't admit to yourself who you are. This is why we must focus on solutions for improving reality, instead of trying to reach fantasy land.

"The Leap" by Hiram Martinez

Bill sat at the counter of the Skydiver's Retreat. He was on his third beer, contemplating the events of the last few days. His lie-altering experience had given him a whole new way of looking at the world. He still couldn't believe his luck; he had survived the most terrifying moment of his life, and without a scratch. He glanced over at the door, waiting for his best friend Ace to arrive. He owed him a huge debt of gratitude. In fact, he owed Ace his life. Bill shuddered as he thought of how close to death he had come only a few days ago.
Bill glanced once more at the door and saw Ace coming towards him. Ace was about six feet tall, with broad shoulders, perfectly styled jet black hair, and a muscular physique. Bill understood why Ace was so popular with the women he met. He was adventurous, fearless it seemed, the envy of every man and the fantasy of every woman. Bill watched as one of the waitresses stopped and whispered in Ace's ear. Ace smiled and said something back. Bill didn't have to hear to know what they were saying; he could see it in their eyes. Ace would definitely not be going home alone that evening. After a few minutes Ace sat down next to Bill and signaled for a beer.
"How's it going, buddy?"
"Still a little shaken up," Bill replied, "but I'll live."
"You're not still thinking about Friday, are you?" he asked.
Ace didn't wait for an answer. He knew Bill's thoughts. The waitress came over with a beer and handed it to Ace. "Don't forget to pick me up when my shift's over. I've got a neat little trick I wanna show you." She smiled and gave him a wink.
Ace took the beer and winked back. "I won't, darling, don't you worry. I've been waiting to see it for a while."
"So," she said, "I heard all about your big adventure last weekend. You're quite a hero."
Ace shrugged. "Hell, I'm sure anyone would have done the same. Isn't that right, Bill?"
I don't know, Ace. It took a lot of guts," Bill mumbled. He knew the story was coming up again, and he dreaded hearing it again. Over the past couple of days, it seemed to be the only thing people were talking about. It didn't matter how often Bill heard him tell it, he still hated to hear it. He was a proud man, and didn't like the idea of being helpless and having to be rescued by his friend. The fact that he just plain envied Ace didn't help much either.
By now a crowd had started to gather. They all wanted to hear Ace's tale of heroism. Bill just sat next to him and forced a smile. Suddenly, it was Friday again. Bill was no longer sitting in a crowded bar listening to his friend. He was back on the place, and about ready to dive with his best friend.

They were both dressed in their best outfits. They were Team Thunder in the charity skydiving event. Below them, hundreds of people sat waiting for them to land. Bill and Ace gave each other the thumbs-up signal, and leaped form the plane. They began to spiral downwards, joining hands and separating again. Their carefully planned routine went perfectly, and they were sure to win the contest. Once their routine was over, they both reached for their ripcords. Ace's parachute opened, and he disappeared above Bill. But when Bill pulled his cord, nothing happened. He tugged on it again and again, but he was still plummeting towards the earth.
Ace saw that his friend was in trouble, and didn't even hesitate. He cut his own cord and dived after his friend. By now, there was a good distance between the two of them, and only Ace's expert skills enabled him to catch his friend. The two men tried several times without success to join arms. By now, they were dangerously close to the ground. They tried once more, and finally, Ace linked arms with Bill and pulled him close.
Ace opened his spare parachute, and the two men landed safely. Bill was as white as a ghost, and almost fainted from the sheer terror of the ordeal. The crowd rushed over and surrounded the two men. Cameras flashed everywhere and news reporters were all over Ace.
The Saturday morning headlines read "Local Hero Saves Helpless Friend from Death." Bill winced when he saw this. He was portrayed as a helpless victim, and Ace as some sort of superhero. He knew he owed Ace his life, but resented him for it. The stares from all the people at the store and in the streets that day didn't help.
Bill hated what he was feeling. This man risked his own life to save him, but all he could do was hate him for it. He knew he should be grateful, but his own pride was wounded. The thought that scared him the most was wishing that Ace had missed. He wished that he had fallen to the ground. Ace would not be a hero, but a failure.
Bill was suddenly brought back to the present by a loud roar from the crowd at the bar. Ace was back to telling jokes and being Mr. Popular. The crowd didn't even notice him there. He felt like Ace's lackey, just some person who was there to inflate his ego. Bill got up and left the bar. He knew that no one but Ace would notice his absence.
Bill walked home in a daze. Thoughts of Friday overwhelmed him. He just wanted to get away from everyone. Suddenly he realized Ace was calling him. He didn't turn around, he just kept walking. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Ace cross the street to get to him. A second later, he saw a car come around the corner too fast to stop. Bill saw the next few seconds of his life in slow motion. Without thinking he leapt into the street and pushed Ace out of way.
Ace landed safely on the sidewalk with scraped palms and knees. Bill wasn't so lucky. The car hit him dead on, killing him instantly. Now it was Bill's turn to be the hero, but he couldn't enjoy it. The following morning's paper read "Local Man Killed While Saving Friend."
The entire town mourned Bill, but no one as much as Ace. He blamed himself. He knew that Bill resented being saved, but insisted on telling that same story over and over again. If he had just kept his mouth shut, he and Bill would have stayed in the bar and sipped beers all day.

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