Imagine a thick wood. Have you ever been in one of those? A place where the undergrowth and trees grow so fully together that it forms a wall of green around you? Now imagine that place at night … a night with a new moon; the darkness and confinement all mixing together in a strange hodge-podge of confused senses as the dark green gives way to inky black and up and right is turned to down and left. Now add a strange muteness to the wood. The branches, leaves and tree trunks all serve to quiet any sound you make and simultaneously deaden the sounds from beyond. Now imagine that the dark, thickness of the wood has kept out sunlight for years and you descend into a biting cold that attacks your already-decreased senses.
Or think of being underground. Have you ever been in a cavern? Perhaps when bathed in the white of a flashlight it shimmered and sparkled with bits of crystal amongst the granite? But now your flashlight has gone out and you have no lighter, matches or other means to make a torch. You’re immersed in a thick, stifling closeness. No light from without, no light from within. You run your fingers along the wall, looking frantically for escape, but there seems no chink in the wall, no break in the rock and no breath of fresh air seeping through a hole which might mean freedom.
In either situation, the dead silence, the stifling darkness and the desperation of being alone could wreak immense havoc on your mind. You would no doubt claw at the walls of the wood or cavern, searching for some way to dislodge the barrier between you and what is outside … whatever and wherever outside might be. You would probably yell yourself hoarse, pleading with the outside … anyone outside … to hear you and come to your aid. And you would probably hear sounds … probably imagined … as either a sign of potential help, or a symbol of the utter ruin of your situation.
If you found yourself in this type of prison – maybe long enough to feel the true pangs of hunger, thirst and lack of companionship – it would dawn on you very quickly that you are hopelessly lost and completely helpless. Lost in not knowing where you are (even if you had traveled to that place of your own volition) and lost in the truest sense to all those in the outside world. Finally, the worst definition of lost would become a truth as the insanity of your powerless situation would seep steadily and depressingly into your mind.
The tricks the mind plays on itself in desperate situations are truly diabolical. You may have had a taste of them from some story read or show watched on television. But the most frightening thing about instances told in stories is that our mind tends to fill in the gaps in the narrative – pumping adrenaline to the furthest reaches of the body, setting heaviness in the innermost part of the gut and sending shivers up and down the spine. If the mind is able to fill in the gaps of a story, twisting and contorting it into something so real that the body is affected, imagine how a true-to-life situation would be. The panic would start the heart racing, the fear would seize the stomach into a knot and the desperation would send the body into a frenzied disregard of pain in the search for escape.
But then, just when things can get no worse and all optimism is about to leave you, out of the darkness and confinement comes a sound that is definitely real – not made by your own movements and not a product of your mind – but as full as the sounds of your mind are hollow and as firm as the sounds of your mind are fleeting. Someone or something is out there! Your heart begins to pound for a reason other than panic. A glimmer of hope illuminates your hopeless condition. You hear your voice, un-commanded by your brain, cry out, “Help! Help me please!” The sound from outside your dark prison halts and then shuffles closer. “I hear you and I’m coming” is the resolute response from the angel on the outside.
The walls of your prison are cut away by strong hands and a light, brighter than anything your mind could remember of the outside world, streams in – a light so strong that you’ve never understood before this moment what it means to have your eyes well and truly open. Indeed the light is so strong that the life within it sends you reeling. The voice of your rescuer is so rich and lovely that it warms your cold body down to your toes as it says, “Come with me. Step out into the light. Leave this prison.”
You stumble forward recklessly at first, but then carefully and deliberately. Your eyes slowly adjust to the harsh light and you see the figure of your rescuer framed in the makeshift doorway. Beyond him is a dreamland – full of the highest mountains that your mind can fathom jutting sharply into azure skies with deep, plunging waterfalls drop from the mountains into electric-green grassy valleys that stretch for miles up to incredibly fragrant pine forests (you can smell them borne upon the refreshing breeze wafting through the door).
As you take all of this richness and beauty in, your mind reproaches you, “How can this be true? How can anything be so lovely? Am I not surrounded only by darkness and fear? Then how can anything – especially the wonderful – beyond this life of confinement be as real as the walls of my prison?” The breathtaking hope that had been breaking through the despondence present during your incarceration begins to fade and you start to give in to the arguments of your own mind. Your steps toward the light slow … and finally stop. You continue to look at the face of your rescuer as he beckons you onward with his eyes and his outstretched hand and for a moment your mind teeters precariously between moving forward or back. That moment seems to you to take decades to pass – a brief interlude for the rescuer, a solemn lifetime for you – an uncomfortable and transfixing second of time with your whole soul on the line.
Will you move on, into glory by taking the hand of the rescuer and stepping into light? Or will you stand rooted by your fear and convinced by the agony of your situation that splendor of this type cannot be real? Will you leave your prison, constructed by your own hopeless wanderings? Or will you allow yourself to be shackled forever, foregoing freedom for a cell and glory for fear?