More than a few years ago, I went through a “spelunking” phase, cave exploring. Most people have misconceptions about caves, that you can just walk around looking at stalagtites
and stalagmites, and when you get ready to leave, you just casually walk out and resume their normal lives.
In reality, caves are like Charlie’s crate; usually very easy to get into, but sometimes very difficult to escape without outside assistance. And have you ever noticed that spelunkers always seem to be wearing helmets? Most would think that this is to protect them from falling rock, but the reality is that a cave is a very static environment, with change, if it does happen, happening very slowly.
The helmets are there to protect the caver’s heads when they forget they’re in a cave and attempt to stand up; while a cave is not an inherently evil place, it’s very nature tends to keep you on your knees. If you forget, an overhead rock will usually remind you.
In Charlie’s case, it was not the feces-covered floor, nor the steel bars of the gate, but the roof of her crate that did the most damage. To this day, the only visible reminder of her incarceration are a few white hairs on the arch of her back where the roof had worn through to her spine as she tried to stand and chew her way out through the top of her plastic prison.
Another vital reminder when in a cave is to place markers as you proceed deeper into the labyrinth, as every thing looks different coming out than it did going in. In everyday life, these markers are memories of positive experiences; proof that no matter how dark it may be, there were once better times and there will be again; there is always a way out.
Alwsys remember that while the humidity inside a cave is 100%, the average temperature us 57°; as long as you’re moving, you’re sweating profusely, but as soon as you stop, the cool rock pulls the heat from your body and you begin to chill, and not in a good way. You can only imagine how you begin to smell after this cycle of heating and cooling repeats itself a few times, or so I hear. No matter how fatigued you get, it’s usually best to stay moving.
And while the interior of a cave has its own peculiar beauty, the longer you linger, the more you become accustomed to seeing things only in shades of grey and brown. It’s not until you spend an extended time underground that you can truly experience how blue the sky can actually be, or how green the hue of even the most common weeds. Then, after a time, the wonder begins to subside, and we once again take for granted the sublime. It’s a crying shame that it seems to take such deprivation for us to appreciate the constant beauty that surrounds us, but that is the nature of man… Charlie does NOT seem to have this problem.
Then, after you gain experience, the logical progression is to get involved in SAR, or search and rescue. This is usually a very difficult but rewarding job, as the more you help others escape their own personal caves (and crates), you more you come to understand your own, and tbe tools and techniques necessary for survival. But to assist others, you have to be willing to go into their place of crisis, and will probably get just as filthy and fatigued, but the difference is that you have been there before, and you can show them the way out.
And that’s what Charlie’s story is all about; the road trips, Special Olympics, and the antics of the inmates are great fun, but the real message is that only by helping others can we ultimately help ourselves.