Farley was a young boy who loved his neighborhood. He loved the way the wind blew through the trees in the park and made the leaves shake. He loved the way people knew his name when he went to the grocery store. He loved seeing his friends from school at baseball games, birthday parties, and at the swimming pool. Everything was perfect in Farley’s life except for one thing: his rock.
There were lots of rocks in Farley’s town, rocks of all colors and sizes. Some were bigger than a backpack, others were smaller than a marble. There were black ones, gray ones, purple ones with yellow spots, green and blue ones, ones the color of candied apples, and some the color of clouds. When Farley saw a pretty rock he would glance around to make sure no one was watching, then quickly pick up the ones he liked.
Ever since he was a little boy, Farley had been warned about picking up rocks. The people in Farley’s town knew that picking up rocks was a waste of time. If you picked up one pretty rock, soon you’d see another one and pick it up too. Before you knew it, you’d have a pocket full of rocks! This happened to Farley all the time. He wasn’t the only one who liked rocks. Farley’s whole town was fascinated with rocks.
Most of the rocks were heavy. The heavier the rock, the more energy it took to carry it. When people used up their energy carrying rocks they often got tired and sick. People spent their entire lives trying not to pick up the rocks, but most of them couldn’t help it. The rocks were too shiny, too pretty, and too colorful to resist. They caught sight of them on the sides of their roads, behind their buildings, and under their beds. They saw advertisements for them on television, got emails about them in their inboxes, and saw big pictures of them on billboards all over their town.
Since carrying rocks was difficult, most of the people who had them felt a little silly about doing it. They didn’t want other people to know about their rocks. They hid them in their coats or snuck them in their hats. They talked with each other about what a waste of energy it was to carry rocks and they whispered behind their hands to each other when they saw someone pick one up. Kids hoped their parents didn’t catch them with their rocks. Fathers hid them in the socks. Mothers hid them under their purses. It was almost as hard to hide your rock as it was to carry it! Some people picked up lots of rocks and thought they were hiding them, but everyone could see them bulging out of their pockets.
Farley had a rock he carried with him wherever he went. It was creamy with golden flecks and jagged edges. It poked his leg through his pants pocket and took up space so all his toys wouldn’t fit when he wanted to carry them, but that didn’t stop him from carrying his rock. The more his rock hurt to carry, the more he told himself that his rock wasn’t that bad. He had to be careful not to empty his pockets in front of his parents because he didn’t want them to see it. He didn't think his rock was a very big deal, but he didn’t like to look at himself in the mirror when his rock was in his pocket.
Sometimes people could carry big rocks around for a long time. Sometimes a small rock turned out to be really heavy and hard to carry. Some people had a hard time carrying red rocks but no problem at all with green ones. It was clear that not all rocks were the same, but it wasn’t clear at all which rocks were the most dangerous. Experts in the land disagreed over which rocks were the worst to carry. Speeches were given about which rocks were the most dangerous and some people would rank the rocks from least to most damaging.
Counselors approached the “rock problem” like they approached someone with drug problems. They advised people to stay away from the ones they thought were the most dangerous. Usually they just told people to stay away from the rocks that the counselors had themselves once carried. Police officers wanted to help the public, so they decided to be on the lookout for rock carriers. If the police thought a certain kind of rock was really bad, they would look out for people who liked those rocks. They were sometimes accused of profiling people who looked like they might pick up those rocks, but the truth was you could never tell which kind of rock a person was capable of hiding. Some people thought of the rocks like sins; they had their own lists of the deadliest rocks to carry that they talked about at their churches. Trying to figure out the worst rock became a favorite pastime for the townspeople.
A few people in Farley’s town didn’t care who knew about their rocks or if someone saw them pick up a rock. They wore t-shirts with pictures of their rocks on them and sketched drawings of their rocks on their notebooks or spray painted rocks on buildings. These people were the easiest to look down on. Parents warned their children not to “end up like those people” and tried to shield their children when they passed by. But inside the parents were thinking about their own rocks, and the more they felt embarrassed the harder they covered their children’s eyes.
Everyone had an opinion about carrying rocks. Some people said that people who carried rocks cost the town too much money. Some people thought it was okay to carry a small rock and tried to pass a law that you could carry around a little rock as long as it didn’t weigh very much. Some people thought that anyone who carried rocks should be thrown out of town. Others said if you carried a rock, you should have to pay a fine or a tax. The mayor started a “Rock Task Force.” Everyone agreed that the “rock problem” had to be addressed, but no one knew how.
You would think it would be easy for moms and dads to talk to their kids about rocks, but it wasn’t. Almost everyone had a rock somewhere, so no one felt they could teach kids to leave the rocks alone. In some schools the teachers tried to talk about the rocks, but that made a few people mad! They worried that if you talked about rocks, kids would get curious about them and want to pick them up. Once you had a rock there wasn’t much you could do about it. Friends and neighbors could help sometimes, but talking about carrying your rock was generally awkward and embarrassing.
Since it didn’t make sense to carry a rock, it was pretty hard to explain to yourself why you had a rock in your pocket. So it became standard to compare your rock to someone else’s so you could feel better about your rock. If your rock weighed less than someone else’s, you could justify carrying yours around with you. Kids would talk their friends into carrying rocks by saying “Come on, it’s not that big a deal. It’s not even that heavy. Lots of people are carrying around heavier ones than this.” People would tell themselves it was okay to carry around a rock as long as it wasn’t as big or as heavy as someone else’s rock. Even if your rock weighed you down, hurt your back, made you tired, or cost you some sleep it was still easier to say “At least my rock isn’t as big as my neighbor’s.”
One day at Farley’s school the children were gathered together for “rock talk.” A speaker had come to tell the school about the heaviest rock in the world. When Farley’s class came into the assembly room he saw a long table holding lots of different rocks. Some of them were the prettiest rocks he had ever seen. There were red smooth ones that looked like gems, shiny black ones looking like candy in a bowl, a large yellow one that made the table sag under its weight, and blue ones that looked like robin’s eggs. Farley recognized some of these rocks from talks he’d had with his parents and friends. He knew these were some of the worst rocks to touch. Once you slid one of them into your pocket, before you knew it you would be carrying so many you could hardly walk! It was only a matter of time before these rocks were the only thing you could think about. They dragged you down, wore you out, and made you very, very miserable.
To Farley’s surprise, the speaker had every class walk at least one time around the table. He told everyone to get a good look at the rocks. Farley gazed in wonder and fear. His heart beat fast and hard as he circled the table. He couldn’t seem to catch his breath. He was sweating like he’d run a race when he took his seat. He barely remembered his own rock hiding in his pocket. He could only think about the rocks on the table.
“Did everyone get a good look at the rocks?” asked the speaker. A murmur sounded across the assembly room. “Which rock do you think is the heaviest?” Hands shot up all over the room. “The yellow rock!” a boy shouted close to Farley. “The black ones!” yelled someone else. The speaker just smiled quietly as the kids argued back and forth, telling the stories they had heard from their parents or older brothers or friends about which rocks were the heaviest. After a few minutes, the speaker held up a hand for the children to settle down.
“It looks like we can’t agree on which rock is the most dangerous rock in the world. It sounds like it could be any of these up here. But let’s say when you leave school today you pick up a tiny, grey pebble on your way home. Or a friend gives you a little green one. Which rock will do you the most damage, the rocks on the table or the tiny one you hold?”
Farley felt a little confused. For a second his thoughts flickered to his rock in his pocket. He was also embarrassed when the speaker pointed at Farley and asked “What do you think? Which rock would be more dangerous for you, one on the table or one in your hand?”
“The one in your hand, I guess” said Farley in a small voice. “That’s right!” said the speaker. “The heaviest, most dangerous rock in the world is the one you are carrying! All the other rocks don’t weigh anything to you. It’s the rock you are carrying that will wear you out in the end.”
Farley barely paid attention to the rest of the assembly. The words “the heaviest rock in the world is the one you are carrying” ran over and over through his mind. When the bell rang and school let out, Farley slowly started walking home. Pretty soon his eyes were full of tears. He stopped in front of an empty store window and looked at his reflection. He was about to do the hardest thing he had ever done. He was about to look at himself in the mirror and pull the rock out of his pocket. He took a big gulp and focused on reflection of his own eyes. Then he slowly reached into his pocket and felt his rock. A wave of panic came over him but he wasn’t going to stop this time. It seemed to take forever to pull his hand out of his pocket and it took all of Farley’s strength to hold up his hand and open his fingers.
There sat the rock. Farley looked at it for only a second, then spread his fingers and it feel to the ground. A huge wave of relief washed over him. He had done it! He felt light as a feather. He felt like he could conquer the world. He had never had so much confidence, and he simply couldn’t stop smiling. He had just dropped the heaviest rock in the world.
Copyright Craig T. Ward, 2011
The author lives in Alaska, USA.
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