Caves, Claustrophobia, and Courage

Chattanooga was our vacation destination this year.  We decided to stop at Mammoth Cave on the way to Chattanooga.  Our oldest daughter loves caves.  I don’t like caves but I love my daughter.  So I was happy to stop at the cave for her.  We parked and changed from our crocs and sandals into our tennis shoes.  I packed a pair of gray tennis shoes for Mikayla and a pair of bright yellow tennis shoes for Hope.  Taylor was helping Hope put her shoes on and discovered I’d made a terrible mistake.  I packed 2 right shoes for Hope.  That’s a twin mom problem I hadn’t anticipated happening on this trip.  Great.  Hope’s going to have to wear her crocs in the cave.  When your child has coordination disorder wearing crocs in a cave doesn’t sound like a good idea.  But we had no choice.  I was irritated because I’d made such a stupid mistake.

We read about the cave tours on the website and we decided to take the Historic tour.  We gathered under the pavilion and the ranger began to describe what the cave tour would be like.  He said we would be going through Fat Man’s Misery.  He looked around and said all of us could physically fit through Fat Man’s Misery.  It’s only in your mind if you can’t get through Fat Man’s Misery.  Fat Man’s Misery?  They didn’t say anything about Fat Man’s Misery on the website!  My husband was standing across the way looking at me.  I mouthed the words “I don’t wanna do this!”  He knew exactly why I didn’t want to do this.

I had a flashback to 1989.  Brett and I were walking some trails at a national forest.  We arrived at a place called Fat Man’s Squeeze.  I was 19 years old and weighed 114 lbs.  Fat Man’s Squeeze should be a breeze.  We started to make our way through Fat Man’s Squeeze and I quickly decided this was not a fun experience.  We were in the middle of a long line that suddenly stopped.  I was trapped in Fat Man’s Squeeze and I felt like I couldn’t breathe.  My heart was racing and I was sweating profusely.  I turned around and looked at Brett.  The look of horror on my face signaled to him that something was wrong.   I’d just discovered that I’m claustrophobic.  He grabbed my hand and told me it was going to be ok.  The line finally started moving again. I survived Fat Man’s Squeeze but vowed I would never go through it again.  And I haven’t.

So here we are in 2017 and a nice ranger just told me I will be going through Fat Man’s Misery.  Fat Man’s Misery sounds a lot worse than Fat Man’s Squeeze.  This is not going to be fun.  The ranger continued to explain what we’d be seeing inside of the cave.  But my mind was racing.  Fat Man’s Misery.  Fat Man’s Misery.  I’m gonna have to go through Fat Man’s Misery?  I just really can’t believe this.  Why didn’t they tell me this before I bought a ticket?  Ok.  Pull yourself together.  You don’t want your girls to know you’re a chicken.  You can do this.

I had trouble enjoying the tour because the fear of Fat Man’s Misery was hanging over my head.  An hour into the tour we finally arrived at Fat Man’s Misery.  The line was moving much slower as people began to enter.  I started sweating profusely as I stood in the 52 degree temperature waiting for my turn to squeeze through the misery before me.  At home I’m freezing if the air conditioning is on 75.  Fear can do really weird things to a person.

I had the words to the hymn I Have Decided to Follow Jesus rolling around in my head.  I didn’t think the words “Though none go with me, still I will follow” fit this particular situation.  I was relieved that some were going with me and that I could follow them.  Sometimes it’s just not good to be by yourself.  And this was one of those times.  There was a man in front of me who was twice as big as I am.  If he can make it through this misery I can make it through this misery too.  God, thank you for putting him in front of me.  The words in the hymn also say  “No turning back.  No turning back” Ain’t that the truth.  I wanted more than anything to run the other direction.  I do not want to do this.  There’s no way out of this situation except through.  No turning back.  No turning back.  Help me Jesus.

With my heart racing and sweat dripping down my back I entered Fat Man’s Misery.  I grabbed Hope’s hand and my uncoordinated sweetheart wearing her crocs instead of her tennis shoes led me through.  We had to squeeze through tight places while also making sure we didn’t bump our heads.  There was one place that we had to climb up.  It was horrible.  Absolutely horrible.  Hope was my guide.  She was fearless.  She never let go of my hand.  We made it through Fat Man’s Misery.  The best part of the cave tour was the moment that I stepped from the 52 degree temperature back out into the 100 degree temperature.  I’ve never been so excited to see sunlight in my life.

As we walked back to the visitor’s center I made a decision.  I’ll never go back in a cave.  Ever.  If my family wants to visit a cave in the future I will sit in the visitor’s center and read a book.  I wish this cave story had a better ending.  I wish I could say that I was courageous and that I overcame my fear.  But I didn’t.  I went through Fat Man’s Misery simply because I had no other choice.  Sometimes life’s like that.  We get up and keep going because we simply have no other choice.  We often have to squeeze through some pretty tight places.  Places where we don’t want to be.  It isn’t always comfortable or fun.  But the good news is that we don’t have to do it alone.  I had a cute 12-year-old who reached out her hand and she took my hand. She helped me through the darkness.  I’m glad the darkness didn’t last forever.  At the end of the darkness there was light.  Glorious light that filled me with joy.  I could finally breathe again.  And it felt good.

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