Have you ever seen the movie The Descent? It is horribly frightening—a good combo of terror and girl power. I also loved Deep Down Dark, a book about the Chilean miners who were stuck underground for 69 days. Little did I know I would find my own powerful lesson in the dark caves of Kentucky.
Recently, I stopped with my family on a road trip at the infamous Mammoth Caves. One of the world’s largest cave systems was an exciting natural wonder that I did not want to pass up.
Unfortunately, I have claustrophobia. But when a guided cave tour described the “wide, expansive caves,” I figured I could handle it. After all, claustrophobia is about having fear in small, tight, constricted spaces. It is called Mammoth, right? Wrong. Here’s what happened.
We unloaded from the bus with about 100 people and were slowly herded through a cement door in the middle of a mountain. I found myself on a dark, small trail (not good) that led to hundreds of narrow metal stairs and tiny corridors only 4 feet tall and only 2 feet wide. The only light amongst these pure rock walls was a small backlight of red. (Just like the picture!)
My Mammoth hike was scary. With 75 people lined up in front, we slowly walked with an amber glow backlighting our steps (total zombie fest creepy). I started to sweat. My face got hot and the thoughts starting coming at me fast in a panic:
There is no way I can handle this. No way.
Do I squeeze past these people in a panic and tell the park ranger to get me out?! To GET ME OUT!
I can’t freak in front of my kids. Then they will get claustrophobia. I am stuck. No way out, 2 more hours of this!”
I froze. My 13-year-old snapped, “Mom. Move! You’re holding everyone up. What’s wrong with you?” I was still frozen.
The lady behind me laughed and in a soothing, southern drawl said, “Oh, honey. I have done this cave many times before. This is the worst part. It will open up in a little while. The rest of the cave is open and fine. Just a few more minutes of this. You will love it.” She laughed. Then she said, “My husband is 6’6’’ and he is really freaking out. He’s in the back.” She kept laughing.
All of the sudden, my fear went away. I felt calm. I felt the heat leave my body and I moved forward. I was fine. About that time, the cave opened up, and we had plenty of cool air to breathe.
What a wonder it was. We saw layers of sedimentary rocks that had been there for millions of years. We saw awesome stalagmites and stalactites stacking up from the ceilings and floors. We heard the bubbling of natural springs that come directly from deep in the earth, and we got to hear about the people who discovered the caves 200 years ago. It was a wonderful experience, truly a gift.
After the hike, I thought about how that cute lady’s kind words of encouragement shifted my fear and helped me move forward. It was an important life lesson. All of the fear dissipated with her calm and reassurance. Surround yourself with people that can do this for you and with you.
That sometimes is all we need in life to move forward in our terror and difficulties. I rely on the encouragement and the reassurance of others and my Higher Power in times of trouble. And I have learned to accept and laugh at our humanness.
Are you feeling overwhelmed or fearful of anything in your life?’
Who or what can you turn to for reassurance and encouragement?