By: Regina Fike
When I was a teenager, I went with my youth group to an “unexplored cave” At least that’s what the glossy brochure said. It certainly had been “explored”, it just wasn’t lit and developed like some other tourist sites. For a fee, “explorers” got a map and a flashlight, and could wander around in the dark cave. As a side note; I have often wondered at the wisdom of the youth group leaders who thought turning a bunch of hormone laden teenagers loose in a dark cave was a good idea, but I digress.
As our small group ventured into the darkness, one young man ran fearlessly ahead. At some point, we heard blood curdling cry for help coming from the darkness ahead. We hurried along toward the sound of the now frantic teen who we found hanging on a rock face off the edge of the trail. Some fifteen or twenty feet below was the flashlight that he had dropped. He was clutching the rocks frantically, fearing that he was about to follow his flashlight into the abyss. When our group got to him, the collective light from all of our flashlights revealed that his flashlight had indeed fallen some twenty feet, into a tiny crevasse, while the crying boy was clutching the rock face, with his feet dangling in the air…about a foot off the cave floor. Needless to say that boy spent the day (and many days thereafter) taking some ribbing about his experience.
Many year have passed since that day in the cave, but some recent events have called the images of that day to my mind with remarkable clarity. To understand why, I invite you to spend a few minutes in the dark caves of my adulthood.
Some time ago I received a call from a school secretary, asking me to come quickly to the school. Bryce was in crisis. I arrived at the school to learn that he had become enraged at the end of the school day and during intervention, he ran from the building and into bus traffic. When the principal, assistant principal, and teacher attempted to move him to safety, he hurt them, badly. I was unprepared for the visceral response I had to seeing the bloody welts and bruises that have become so common to me, on someone else’s body. Knowing that is was my son had done this to them somehow caused greater physical pain than when the injuries had been inflicted on me. As staff tried to re-group in the hallway, Bryce sat on the floor of the “quiet room”, his tear stained face leaning on the thick glass door. The scene was surreal, and terrifying. I felt a rising panic as the realities started to settle in on me. The event that we been running from, and feared was upon us. Our son was in excruciating pain. While his little body was present, his spirit seemed lost in a place beyond my reach. We needed to go to crisis. My little boy was going to be hospitalized. Waves of panic and fear were rising in me. I ran outside the door, trying to force air into my lungs. I felt bile rising in my throat and I vomited. As shaking subsided, I went inside and asked if I could sit in the quiet room with him. We didn’t speak, I just sat on the floor next to him and he crawled onto my lap. I held him and rocked him and we both cried quiet tears. As often happens after Bryce’s rages, he was docile and weak in the aftermath, and this time, so was I. It took twelve hours for the crisis worker to locate a bed in a facility hours away from our home. As he was put into the ambulance for the two hour ride to the pediatric psych hospital, I felt that I had been thrust back in time to that moment when this nightmare began, and we were leaving him in the arms of virtual strangers on a stoop in West Philly. The emotional pain was eviscerating. I tasted the bitter bile burning in my throat, and my body shook as the ambulance drove away.
In the ten days that followed, doctors told us there was “intensive therapeutic interventions”, and “evaluations of his medications and diagnoses”. There was also mourning and fear. I listened for his voice among the playful laughter of his sister and the grandbabies in our house. His toys were where he left them, his bed was unmade. His absence was a loud, cold, noise in my heart that ached in constant rhythm.
My fears about what he was going through and what came next were inescapable. In short, I was hanging by my fingernails on the rock face, paralyzed with fear of the impending fall into the unknown abyss. I love my son. The fear that I could lose him is an emotionally menacing untenable threat. It is a dark place.
Maybe that is why I have been searching for ways to reframe the conversations going on in my head. There may be something instructive in the experience of my youth. It may be time to let go of the rock face that I have been holding on to so desperately and trust that the floor is not as far away as it feels. It may be time to let others shine light on the hurts and offer help. It is possible that the bottom is as dark and painful as the fear…but maybe not. Either way, it is time to let go, and have faith that the One who is the Light will help us land.