Sunday, January 3, 2016

Through the Mountain

I'm not looking back at 2015. I refuse. I lived 2015 in a dizzy, present, terrified state. I let the winter, incidents of perceived failure, and regret lure me into a tunnel of depression I hope never to see again. It's a tall order. I know. But that is my resolution for 2016. Let me explain.

We can probably all agree that caves are really cool. I remember properly learning of the existence of caves in Coach Dixon's Earth Science class in 8th grade; although, I was always aware of their existence. We watched a National Geographic video in class (a pretty typical occurrence) that presented not only the scientific information but also the historical information on caves in America.

Long after I passed Coach Dixon's class with flying colors, I went caving in Cumberland Caverns with some friends. We ate pot brownies and made shadow puppets on the stone walls after crawling through the cave's hidden tunnels and rooms. For one minute as I lay on my back looking up at the rocks above me, I was seized with the terror that the rocks might come crashing down upon us at any slight movement of the earth we rested upon (paranoia, a pesky side effect of brownies). My brain jumped in quickly and reminded me that, "no, these thoughts are useless," and I let the terror float off into the cavernous darkness. I slept on the floor of the cave that night, dreaming of pink clouds and snoring like a rhinoceros...or an adorable pug.

A few years later, I stumbled upon a cave in the woods in Dahlonega, Georgia (over by the old distillery, you know the one if you live there). I want to know how many terrifying stories one needs to hear about the dangers of going into a cave alone to remove the inherent desire to do just that when one finds a cave in real life. This cave wasn't exactly uncharted or anything, but I did not have the right shoes for the kind of wading an exploration would have required. I still thought about it for a moment.

Floyd Collins
The National Geographic video we watched in Coach Dixon's class featured a brief summary of the story of Floyd Collins through narration, old newspapers, photographs, and sketches of the drama of his imprisonment and death at the hands of our cavernous earth. I hate sketches of past events. Sketch artists are always given license to intensify the drama of situations...especially in National Geographic movies. I saw the terrified face of Floyd Collins intricately sketched every night when I closed my eyes. That's all I knew of Collins, that he explored the darkest corners of earth and that he died, terrified, at the hands of his own lust for a full and glorious life.

While living in Dahlonega and teaching at the university, I tried to convince my theatre students to do the musical version of Floyd Collins' story because it would be an easy set and gorgeous music. It wasn't exactly a known show, however, and putting together a straight play seemed a lot easier and less horrifying than trying to throw together a musically complicated show with myself as the only paid member of the ensemble. Plus, there's a lot of really weird yodeling pieces in that musical.

The tragic outcome
I suppose I wanted to do the show because I was obsessed with the idea that this blank faced historic figure who died so tragically inspired someone else to write such beautiful songs of redemption. With the commemoration of his life in musical form, the image I had of Floyd Collins' contorted and frightened face could relax into peace and beauty.

When I walked into the darkness of depression, I knew I shouldn't have, but I wanted to see where it would least a very small part of me did, like that flicker of intense curiosity that I always feel at the mouth of a cave. Floyd Collins worked alone. I worked alone, but for far too long. Floyd Collins was trying to find a new entrance to the cave, and I too have been searching for another path...through my life (ooooooooh sparkles of dreamy realization).

I walked through the mountain of my life, surrounded by the demons of my own darkness and searched the images of my past for clues as to which tunnel to climb through to find the way out all while the terror that the earth above me could come crashing down and bury me alive continued to grow to the point at which I could barely stand on my own.

Then, with a lantern, my mother and my father came after me, found me, and began the task of helping me find a way out. They always do that because that's what parents do. They showed me the light at the end.

The nation watched the story of Floyd Collins, as best they could at the time, and an army of locals dug furiously to try to get him out. So too did my chosen family, my friends, notice my drowning and reach out to remind me that I'm not alone, that I'm never alone.

Thus, for 2016, I'm going to focus on that light, and I'm not going to look back without a rope around my waste and someone to talk me and walk me through the darkness. It's not because I'm not afraid any more. I'm terrified. But I don't want to be afraid any more.

I'll never forget crawling through a tunnel in the cave back in Tennessee with my head lamp scraping the rocky floor, and coming to a small opening large enough for one person to stand up at a time. I cast my light along the shimmering walls around me. Rock formations, dripping from the ceiling of the opening shone like diamonds.

I want to see further. I want to see what's in the light, and I want to share it.

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