I was on my back on the wood floor of a three sided shelter ten miles into the woods on the Appalachian Trail in Western North Carolina.
Complete darkness. Alone.
I forgot my flashlight.
As I was staring into the pure emptiness of darkness, I was wondering how I got here. Why was I here? Who was the idiot that brought me to this point?
How was I going to deal with it?
This reality came to me: I got here on my own. I chose to walk miles into the woods alone. I failed to bring a light. I would be here for nearly twelve hours in the dark. Walking out was a bad idea. My only option was to wait and trust in what I knew, which was this shelter.
The shelter gave me a very small amount of comfort or sense of safety, but it was the best I had. So I shifted around so my back was against the wall, my left shoulder on the ground, my eyes staring straight ahead into the dark of the open end of the three sided building. I wanted not to be afraid. I tried not to be. But the noises and the inability to see anything made it nearly impossible to relax.
It was very windy at times. There was a storm in the distance. I’m not really sure why, but I wanted that storm to come. When the wind would die down and be still, I would hear things. Something was walking around the shelter. I could hear shuffling in the gravel. I figured that if the storm came, it might cause the creeper to go back home. Also, if the storm came, it would provide constant noise, which would drown out any mysterious noises. I prayed earnestly for the storm to come.
The storm never came.
When it was windy, I would doze off. The wind was comforting. Silence was the opposite.
This went on all night. In the silence of no wind, I would open my eyes and stare ahead. Listening to this movement around the shelter I would imagine what was out there. My hope was that it was a bear. I figured a bear would keep other things away, like coyotes, raccoon, or some other scavengers that could be on me in a flash. A bear, I figured, had no interest in eating me. I had no food on me. My bear bag was hanging away from the shelter.
Amazing really. I truly did want a bear to be right outside the shelter.
As I gazed into the dark, I pictured a crowd of animals gathered around staring at me. The thought made me want to laugh out loud. But it also made me feel very vulnerable. For a long time I pictured another scene around me and it entertained me. What if there were animals out there whispering to each other while suppressing laughter,
“shhhhh…there’s this…there’s this…hush…there’s this guy in there completely freaked out…be quiet about it, but just move some branches around, shuffle your feet in the gravel…every once in a while brush up against the shelter….hehehehehe…shhhhhhhh…seriously man, hush. let’s have some fun with this guy.”
I just pretended to be invisible.
Several times during the night I had a debate with myself. Should I remain quiet and not draw attention to myself, or should I start yelling and banging things around? Did I want attention or did I want to remain undetected? Was I already detected? Would these creatures run away if they hear me or would they come check me out?
I kept choosing just to be still.
The helplessness was actually comforting. My only option was to wait. My only comfort was three walls, a floor, and a roof.
My decisions put me here. My sense of adventure created a situation that I did not like. But in this situation I grew.
Being in this shelter, alone, in the dark, no light, with unknown creatures lurking…this is my life. My decisions placed me right where I am. I cannot change what got me here. I cannot make the creatures go away. All I can do is trust and wait. Wait for the light.
God spoke to my heart. If I didn’t walk here and find myself here alone, how was I going to hear this message?
Just trust what I know. Rest. Wait for the revelation of the light.
I smiled in the dark. And I waited.
I can’t say that I had no worries or fears as I waited. Yet I had peace. Peace is not the same as comfort. Peace is deep and real and it is for my entire being. Comfort is temporary, based on situations, and it is for my flesh.
That was a long night.
But when the light started to gently break the darkness, my mind connected to the ancient writers who described God as the light. I have never understood the value of light the way I did as I waited in pure darkness. As dark as it once was, and as helpless as I once felt, the light revealed the truth and comforted me.
I wanted out of that darkness. I wanted the light. Yet, in that darkness, I understood the light. At this very moment, I want to go back to that place.