One of my favorite places is a distant memory. I had visited it only once, as a small child, but it remains indelibly in my mind and my heart as a place I would love to visit once more before I die.
Deep in the southern reaches of Utah, there is a desert. Much of this desert is National Parks, such as Bryce Canyon, Arches, and Zion. Somewhere in that vast orange and red desert spotted with shrubs and cacti, there is a cave. It is more than a cave, really; it is a cavern. Its vaulting ceiling was carved out of stone by water and wind and time. The floor is filled with fine white sand, and the smooth orange rocks provide blue shade against the bright yellow desert sun. Inside the cave, the outside world is lost to the sun, and there is nothing except the vast shadowed emptiness and silent echos. There is a peace in the stillness, a submission in the echos, and a joy in the chill shades hidden under the crevices of stone.
Even though I was not alone in that cave–surrounded by chattering people and echoing feet–the vastness of the shadows drew me in towards a stillness in myself. I found a quiet spot near the red rock wall, where the shadows were most purple and cool, and the sand soft and deep. My five year old hands (or was I four or was I six?) plunged into the warm powdered earth. My entire world became consumed by the grit in my palms. I cannot recall if I thought anything–perhaps I had no thought. But for the eternal instant we occupied that cave, that cave’s flesh occupied ME.
There is a life to be found outside of life. Its easy to forget that stillness and emptiness is just as much alive as any action or form–and just as crucial to our wellbeing. I sometimes look back on that cave with longing, for even now, I wish I had more time to enjoy that handful of silent white sand.
For some reason, I am just now reminded of a verse in a poem by T.S. Eliot: “The Wasteland.” (This is also one of my most favorite bits of poetry in all the english language. I am now struck by a wondering if my longing for the cave of my memory and my fondness for this obscure poem are linked?)
A heap of broken images where the sun beats
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no water. Only there is this shadow under this red rock.
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock).
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you,
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you.
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.