The Cave Dwellers

I was born in a cave. I didn’t know this at the time, of course, because, like all the rest born in the cave, the darkness was all I ever knew. Sure, there was the central fire, ever burning, casting its shadows on our own even more shadowy existence. The central fire stoked by the masters of the flame, and, I thought, at least in part by our own fear and despair.

Until you arrived, my life was spent in chains. Imprisoned as I was in this eternal darkness, I lived (if one could call it living) in an upright, coffin-sized cocoon barely larger than my somewhat substantial frame. For, even undernourished and overworked, my body was (at least, judging from my shadow) rather imposing. My life was purely existence, and that only to eat, work, and sleep in an unending cycle. In the darkness, there was no concept of minutes, hours, days, or years. There was just time spent in my cramped, vertical quarters or working, and all of it in bondage.

At regular intervals, I was allowed to take a turn at the large spindle. My chains were moved (by what unseen force I still do not know) from the living tomb of my non-restful respite to the giant horizontal wheel. I was shoved into a space and chained to a large handle, which I would push forward along with others in front of and, I assumed, behind me.

This was my life—a spectral and indistinguishable existence, I now realize, but then gave no consideration. For, born in the cave and working in the cave, I presumed that I, like all the others, would also die in the cave. And why not! This was life, or so we thought before you arrived. We persevered. We endured. We did what we were told, never thinking of rebellion because we never contemplated the possibility that there might be anything different, much less good, outside the cave.

When one never sees an opening, is it not foolish to even hope an opening exists? How does one even imagine the idea of a door, when one has never seen a door? What develops the imagination when all around you is shadows?

When one’s entire life is nothing but a movement from here to there, led in chains from one prison to another, how does one even dream of something different? A world outside? Another place, other people, who live outside the cave? I didn’t even know I was in the cave, so how could I conceive a world outside?

And then, one day, you suddenly appeared in a blinding flash. My world was not only different; my world was shattered. All I had ever known and all I thought I knew was obliterated like so many shards of broken glass. Assuredly, my world was but a thinly veiled mythology of my own making. Still, it was my world, and for all the discomfort of my physical existence, I was comfortable in my ignorance of anything beyond what I securely knew.

That all changed when the cave filled with light. It was as if we were all compelled to look straight at the light, but it gave us a pain in our eyes and our head, and we could do nothing but turn away from it.

Perhaps a little reluctantly at first, with your encouragement we made a steep and rugged ascent, into the presence of the sun itself. When we approached the light, our eyes were dazzled, and we were not able to see anything at all. At least in the cave we had our shadows. Out here, in the light, we were blind.

Our first thought, remarkably, was to withdraw once again into the cave, the light too much for our eyes to handle. How much simpler to retreat to the relative discomfort of our previous bondage?

Over time, though, we grew accustomed to the sight of the world outside the cave. We endured, and developed a new character. At first we still saw the shadows best, later the reflections of people and other objects in the water. It took some time for our eyes to adjust fully to a more colorful, more complete, more vibrant and alive reality outside the cave. There was so much to see and experience!

We ran around the outside world like giddy children seeing everything for the first time—because we were born anew! We took in deep breaths of the lush, verdant countryside. We marveled at colors!

Our black and white existence, our soulless journey through life, was now filled with a thousand greens and a million blues. It was as if each color had an associated smell and flavor. Red strawberries! Green beans! Yellow bananas! And a food so magnificent it’s very color was part of its given name: Blueberries!

Once out of the cave and free of our chains, it took some time for our eyes—and our hearts, to adjust. We were still blinded by the true light of freedom and love. We could not believe there was a world of compassion welcoming us so openly and without condition. You taught us a new word: hope, and taught us what it means to be hopeful—to imagine that not only our lives, but all lives, all existence, can be better.

We have learned so much since being rescued from the darkness of the cave, and I know we have much more to learn. I write this letter to you, so many years after our rescue, and even though you no longer walk this mortal soil, to remind my children and theirs, to never lose hope. For, whether living in the darkness of the cave or blinded by the light, there is always more than we can see.

Meditation: I AM a light in the darkness.

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