I don’t consider myself a mystical sort of person. I don’t think I believe in ghosts, and while I definitely believe that there’s something greater than me out there, a kind of spiritual realm akin my own mundane one, I don’t think – in my life – I’ve gotten many glimpses of something I could call a ghost or a god or an angel. Not to deny their existence (far from it); I just haven’t directly experienced those things enough times to feel comfortable calling it “proof.”
I do, however, very distinctly recall an experience I had with a magic rock. There’s no real story to it. The rock didn’t do anything special. The face of Jesus was not carved into the rock. It didn’t move or fly. It wasn’t a pet rock. I don’t even think I kept it afterward. But the experience, whatever it was, was a significant moment for me. And a friend of mine named Paul.
Paul and I were kindred spirits. We were both loners of sorts, at least in our own way. Paul was a gamer and loved philosophical discussion. I cherished my independence, and both of us loved hating our Boy Scout troop, which was where we had met.
When I was in high school, I was a Boy Scout in Troop 10, which around West Tennessee was known as the “Eagle Factory,” probably stemming from the fact that our scoutmaster was a West Point graduate who ran the troop with very high expectations. We often went on camp-outs to Camp Mack Morris, the scouting camp serving the West Tennessee area, and occasionally, those camping trips took place in the dead of winter.
I remember one in particular that has nothing to do with the magic rock, but I’ll mention it anyway. Hudson – the scoutmaster – spent a lot of time planning what he called “Merle,” a three-day weekend in the wintertime where we focused on one merit badge. Merle was also the name of a card game we would play in our free time, though I think the actual game we were playing was Euchre. I always watched and never learned how to play, because I thought the game was stupid and hard, or maybe just hard. I’m getting off-track.
Anyhow, Merle was the camping trip where I first went tree-pushing, which consisted of just running around finding large, dead trees to push over. You were the “winner” if you could push over the largest tree, though I don’t think Paul or I could push any trees over at all.
I also remember getting lost in the woods at night one year playing German Spotlight. And I remember Bob Hudson showing us the Gene Hackman movie, Hoosiers, and making us take notes during the movie and discuss “leadership” and what the movie could teach us about effective leaders.
Yeah. And you wonder why Paul and I both loved hating the Boy Scouts.
One year, everybody was standing around in the cafeteria, and it was raining outside. I remember, as the rain let up, Paul and I went outside to walk around (just the two of us) and talk, and I remember we were either depressed or complaining, though I can’t remember which one it was – maybe a combination of both. The gravel path outside (there wasn’t a paved road) was wet, and as you walked along the rocks, they crunched against one another like walking on coals or compacted snow.
At one point, Paul reached down and picked up one of the rocks. He rolled it around in his hand, and then said something like, “Hmm, interesting,” before handing me the rock. Like Paul, I held the rock, and rolled it around in my hand inspecting it. There was nothing special to it. It looked the same as all the other rocks. But it was wet and dirty, and the red-clay dirt rubbed off onto my hand as I rolled the rock around.
I handed it back to Paul, and we both sort of looked at each other, and as we did, this strange sense of awe sort of jolted us both. Paul said out loud, “Do you feel that?” I nodded and we just stood there taking in the moment. I didn’t then and don’t really know now how to put into words what it was. Paul didn’t either. But both of us felt overcome by some force, be it nature or God or a gas leak. It seeped into us and gave us chills and made us both feel like we and this silly rock were all sharing some sort of natural communion. That something as simple as a rock could make us feel like the world was huge and good and that we were brothers and somehow connected to everyone and everything.
I don’t know where these mystical feelings come from. I don’t know how a magic rock can be magic. But I think that one little experience has left me searching and sauntering my way through life always hoping I’d be jolted again, in a good way, by another person or thing that entered my life. I still do.