This past week, I had one of the darkest experiences of my life, quite literally. I joined the 8th graders from CMC on their annual summer trip to West Virginia, and one afternoon of our trip was spent caving. Now, if you know me at all, you know that I’ve never been fond of darkness or small spaces – but I love to explore, and I had never been caving and wanted to try it! Our first cave was dry and cool, with pointy jagged rocks and clear pools of water. We played hide and seek among stalagmites and screamed in the dark and loved it.
But then we went to our second cave. It was much bigger, much more muddy, and much much darker. We stood in a room, lights off, and adjusted to the absolute darkness around us. We sang “It Is Well” in the acoustics and I cried because it was so beautiful. Even in the physical darkness of that place, there was light. We continued through the mud, falling and laughing our way though slips and falls and streams, until we reached a small opening. There, we sat on the tall banks of a stream in the dark, once again, preparing for what our guide called the “blind crawl”. There was an opening between two rock faces, just wide enough to army crawl through, and we were to do all twenty feet of it without our head lamps, once again in absolute darkness.
The group went through in pairs, and were instructed to remain as quiet as possible on the other side. I went through with two others, second to last, and was the first of our trio to begin crawling. Beside an embarrassing story of being one of the first people that our guide had ever seen go the wrong way first (ask me if you want to hear that one!), once I began to crawl, I was terrified. Not only did I have no idea where I was heading, but no idea where I was or what direction was where. I kept losing the wall that our guide told us to stay on and my back and helmet kept hitting on the wall above me. My breath was shallow and my head was pounding, and continued to do so long after I was told to sit up because I had made it. Ending up in a room with so much space, after crawling through the smallest space I had ever been in, was the strangest feeling I have ever experienced.
Now, there was a point later on in our caving adventure that freaked me out even more. I fell in a small opening we were climbing through and slipped just enough to be sent over the edge into a panic attack. That was not fun. But what I find interesting as I reflect on the whole thing is that the moment that I slipped was more scary than the darkness was to me. I actually preferred the darkness, because after sitting in it and waiting for our turn to crawl through it became comfortable. It felt safe because I knew what I felt – where my stomach, my back, my feet were – and as long as I felt that, I knew I was okay. My security fell through when my feet fell off the ground, because what I could see scared me more than what I didn’t know earlier.
The day after caving, we went white water rafting. We spend the day on a wide open river, and experienced both darkness (in the form of a driving thunderstorm that hid the neighboring mountains from view) and light (in the form of blue sky and sparking water). We did everything from floating along to swimming through rapids behind the raft, to diving head first into holes and navigating class five rapids – and it was so cool! It was the bright spot of my trip, and the memories made in that raft will last forever.
As I reflect on the differences between these two days, the “dark” and the “light” of my trip, I’m struck by how odd the difference is between them. Caving kept my feet on solid (yet muddy) ground, while rafting put me in the middle of a constantly moving and swirling river. Caving relied on my feet and my ability to navigate, and rafting left me at the hands of the commands of the guide sitting behind me. Caving was a group activity but left me space to be alone and do things my way, while rafting offered no alone time and full dependency on my team.
Reading those things, I should have loved caving and hated rafting. But it was the other way around. And I think it’s largely because, while rafting, I was constantly in the light. Even in the midst of a driving rainstorm, I could see my surroundings and I could see the sky, even if the only light was from lightning bolts. I could see the rapids that were coming and I could see how the water moved around me. While swimming and floating I could see the currents around me and see the strap of the raft I could grab if I was in trouble. The light was always evident, and after having my light taken away the day before, I drank every drop of it in.
Today over lunch, my husband was filling me in on some of the events in our world over the past week. About shootings in major cities, police officers being ambushed on two separate occasions, and trucks driving into crowds in France. We both sat silent because of the darkness that we felt surrounding us and the conversation. Yet, Facebook reminds me that three friends had babies in the last week and there have been weddings and engagements and summer fun – all light things.
Darkness and light, constantly fighting for our attention. Keeping our feet planted in places we may or may not want to be and swirling around us whether we want it or not. Darkness like a cave, overwhelming and complete, and light like a river, full and moving and sparkling. Our lives are made of these two things, in both obvious and not obvious ways. As we enter a new week, I promise you that there will be plenty of darkness. I also promise you that there will be plenty of light. I also challenge you to pull your feet out of the mud of the darkness, even though it might feel good and safe to have your feet on the ground – because even in it’s unpredictability, the light is always the best place to be.