The starch of his collar scratched raw the flesh beneath his neck. He ran his finger around the stiff edges and tried to swallow but chocked, feeling as if he were trying to swallow down cotton balls.
“Are you nervous, Young Spirit?” The Path Keeper asked, her voice gentle as the rustling wind through the summer leaves.
He nodded his head and managed to answer. “Yes. Yes, I am very nervous.” He let his eyes meet hers but quickly pulled them away and put them back upon the path before him. Looking into the Path Keeper’s eyes was like staring into the very rays of the sun for some, for others it was like watching the very sun fade into darkness as if drowned by raging waters. Young Spirit didn’t hold his gaze to her’s long enough to find out what he would find when he looked at her. He was already afraid.
“You should not fear, Young Spirit,” Her hand stilled his quaking shoulder. “You have already chosen your stones. Your next path will lead to beauty whichever you choose, all that is left is to choose.”
Young Spirit flexed his sweaty palms. Choosing the stone he would carry onto his next path was what frightened him the most. Middle-aged, 15, suspended between childhood and adulthood. If he took with him the wrong stone for this stage it could have dire results. “What are my choices, Path Keeper? Can you remind me again.”
The Path Keeper laughed out her answer and her voice, the word “yes”, sounded like birds singing at the dawn. “Your three stones are, Joy, Dreams, and Hope. Which will you carry with you?”
They were all good choices indeed and that was the hardest thing. He could only have one for certain, only one until the day he turned 30 and stood at the mouth of another path with another Path Keeper. He chewed upon his lip and thought aloud. “If…If I choose joy, I will be content.”
“Indeed, whether you encounter the good or the bad, joy will keep you. Joy is a very good choice.” She smiled again.
“Yes, joy is good, but dreams, without dreams I will have nothing to reach for. Contentment is good but it can become a trap without dreams even if there is joy. And then there is hope…” He wanted to look at her face again, for assurance but could only manage to look down at where her feet should have been. Instead at the hem of her flowing gown, where he should have seen ankles and feet, he saw grass growing into golden-pearl flesh that disappeared beneath her gown.
Young Spirit’s heart quickened in his chest.
“You have made your choice, Young Spirit,” She slid the stone into his palm and closed his finger’s securely around it. “You have made the wisest choice.” She extended her long arm in a slow sweeping movement and the path before him opened up, narrow and yet broad, dark and yet light. His heart drummed heavy in his chest. Yes he had made the right choice.
Stepping on the path, he felt the strength of hope and then joy and then dreams building within his very skin and bone, deep into his marrow and clear into his spirit. Hope. He had chosen hope and in so doing he had been blessed to carry all three of the stones with him. For with hope there was always an expectation for good, a promise of a better dream, and with that expectation and promise of a dream came the birth of joy which only gave him greater hope. And like a ring of burning fire the circle of the three kept building within him until he was securely on the path and on his way to his future.