Over the weekend, I took my floor of Freshmen to the Casparis Cave, near Ohiopyle in PA. This is a cave where headlamps are not only "suggested," they are completely necessary. The cave is full of twists, turns, and tight squeezes that are only manageable by laying flat on your stomach and inching forward using your hands and feet alone. This cave is a challenge on a regular day. However, on the day I took my residents, it rained all day! The water that typically covers an explorer's feet as they enter the cave became knee to mid-thigh level, and extremely muddy- you could not see your own hand in the water. Since this cave is open to the public, my floor was not the only group exploring. There was also a boy scout troop, outfitted for the adventure. Much like the residents from my floor, these boyscout members were talking about how excited they were to explore the cave. They were "one-upping" each other, talking about who was going to make it deeper in the cave- who was going to be the bigger man. However, as the boys climbed up the rocky face of the cave, one by one, their demeanor changed. The purest moment I witnessed all day was when a small boy climbed up the face of the cave, stepping into the thigh-high muddy water at the entrance. The previously boasting, self assured little boy suddenly threw his arms above his head, his entire face distorting in unsurmountable terror. "ARE THERE ANIMALS IN THIS WATER!?!?!" the little boy screamed. All adults had to choke back laughter and reassure the boy that there was nothing in the water: no sharks, crocodiles, or other unseen creatures were going to nip at his ankles here in western PA.
One of my residents also experienced a moment of terror; becoming claustrophobic and having to turn around, she failed to complete her exploration of the cave. These kids' fears reminded me of so many other moments in life. We pretend to be strong; excited for the challenges life will throw at us. We hide our fears, camouflaging our worries with words that are not always entirely true. Sometimes, no matter how much we try to convince ourselves and others that we really are up to the challenge, we truly are fearless, manly, and brave... we're actually scared. Sometimes we're all a little worried about what's in the water. And sometimes we may need to turn around, like my resident... but that shouldn't stop us from trying. The little boy who screamed in fear, and my resident who fled the tight clutches of the cave... they still tried. They hiked to the cave, they climbed up the rock face, they waded into the water. They made an effort. And regardless of the outcome, that's what's important. There's no shame in turning around, or asking if there are animals in the water. There's no shame in being afraid.