To the Cavern and Back Again

by Maile on May 5, 2012

A lot of people have asked me why I wanted to pack all our stuff into a storage unit in Gap, Pennsylvania, corral our 4 small children onto an old tour bus named Willie, and travel the country for 4 months with no home or job (for my husband) to come home to. 

And here’s my stock answer: “Because I’ve always wanted to travel the country.  I just thought it would be interesting and good for the kids’ education.” 
But, really, that’s like Miss Nevada saying, “I would wish for world peace” with a cellophane smile held up by double D’s in a modest but flattering swimsuit. Sure, she does want peace and I do think all this gallivanting is interesting, but it’s such a one-dimensional answer.
The God-honest truth is:  I wanted to take this trip because I flat out NEEDED it.  (And not like you need a vacation to deepen your tan lines and take a break from doing dishes for a while.)

Last fall, upon the thoughtful recommendation of a dear friend, I began seeing a counselor.  During the preceding year I had slowly precipitated into a shadowy cavern, stumbled deep into its damp, musty depths and found a cruel home for my mind there.  I went about my physical life in the daylight, feeding my children, teaching their lessons, filling up the grocery cart and smiling politely at the check out clerk.  
But as I sat in the parking lot, shifting my car into drive, I felt hopeless. “I can’t do this for the next sixty years,” I whispered to myself under my childrens’ laughter drifting from the back seats.
So I waited, checking off my “to do” list each day, cozying the kids on the couch with a bowl of popcorn and a DVD, then closing my bedroom door and bending over my bed, stifling my sobs with an old down pillow. 

And I waited.

Then one fall day, my friend posed the right question.  “How are you doing?” she asked, not in a flippant, conversation-filling kind of way.  No, she asked with her eyes looking directly into mine and her hand holding my elbow.  And her question unraveled me. 

A month later, after ample dragging of feet and persistent self-declarations that “I can figure this out on my own”, I finally acknowledged my limits and heeded my friends advice.

For my first appointment, I took the back entrance into the office so no one I knew would see me.  I hugged the walls like the lead gun in a covert operation.  Then I entered the office with a costumed air of cheerfulness; I wanted to give the impression that I was “here for the good of someone else, just getting some solid professional wisdom to pass along to a struggling friend”.

I waited nervously in my upholstered chair, nonchalantly flipping through magazines I didn’t care about, sneaking eager glances toward the hallway lined with counselors’ offices. And then she appeared beside me as I hunched over a recipe for apple doughnuts.  I shook her hand, smiled, and strangely felt like a 12 year old meeting her homeroom teacher for the first time; I followed her sheepishly down the hall.
But what transpired in the office down that hallway changed my life.

I began finding hope.

I began seeing goodness.

I began hearing truth.

I began extending forgiveness.

I began feeling love.

But it was just a beginning, the first wobbly steps up the long slippery staircase from my cavern.   I felt confident of what I could leave behind in the shadowy place, the past I could set like a statue upon the rocky altars below.  But now I needed a journey, a physical odyssey, in order to shed layers, build strength in my legs, and move upwards. I needed this trip to lose myself one night…and find myself the next morning. I needed this trip to sacrifice…and slowly, painfully be born again.
I needed this trip to wrestle, bloodied and grunting in the darkness…to at last receive the blessing of light.

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