I found myself poised at the mouth of a cave that emitted a low, beckoning song. I looked behind me at the mess of harvested fields and tangled forests, and the chill of solitude swept through my bones. Craving warmth, craving respite from slaying my own dragons, I stepped inside the cave and measured my footsteps by the rhythm of the cave’s welcoming song.
What struck me most about the cave song was how closely it resembled the song of my heart. As my fingers sought the cool, damp stone of the cave’s walls and the song ribboned around me, I was gripped with creeping recollection. There had been times when the pain of betrayal, the sting of rejection, or the abrupt brush of dismissal had forced me under blankets or flinging arms wide to the sea, to draw in and out of myself and let salt air or quilted comfort rock me with the steady thrumming of my very own dear soul.
And now this song, a crescendoing lure that began at the roots of my heart and its memories of oneness, brought me down deeper and darker into the cave’s serpentine throat.
My body responded to them before my head could comprehend that I wasn’t alone. Goosebumps prickled my skin and the hair on my arms rose as if blown on by cold air. I knew then, as my hand met flesh instead of stone wall that there were others like me, groping in darkness for something other than our own existence, our minuscule perceptions. As we walked in silence, I wondered if they could hear the same song, if the beating drum mimicked their hearts, if the chords struck and otherworldly undulations mirrored their hidden souls.
Crackling light spilled suddenly covering black with gold and the twisting tunnels broke open to reveal a hive of rooms electric, pulsing, living. There were all manner of people and creatures glimmering like stars, winged, glowing, dipped in fluorescent light. Once my eyes adjusted to this new brilliance, I explored room after room, feet advancing as if possessed. These people, this species of cave dwellers, roamed and danced and played instruments individually, but moved as if one to a cacophony of sounds.
golden cave man
I was approached then, by a man so beautiful I nearly doubled over with the sudden sharp acknowledgment of loneliness. His eyes burnt with fire and promise and his bare, burnished torso gleamed like the future. Before all logic and consideration we were interlocked, dancing to private unheard symphonies and there was gold dust in my hair, between my fingers, on my eyelashes and resting on my tongue. It tasted like stolen sweetness and my heart song quickened its tempo into a crashing riot of thunder and lightning.
Those eyes, his hands knotted with mine, held me for eternities. In those arms I imagined a warrior and myself a hero’s beauty, my body’s pleasure and relief of handing the sword to someone who would fight for me. He swept me into inner rooms and hidden chambers and showed me secret things and I could see it so clearly: life’s companion threshing wheat and overgrown weeds, making me beautiful and bold and wonderfully, exquisitely held. Held when blankets wore too thin and held when teetering too close to the cliff’s edge. Songs sung in harmony.
Eve’s kingdom for Adam’s kiss.
Lower and lower into the cave’s depths, my hand in his. So deep was I, so drunk on this feeling I rode like a wave, that I didn’t realize until seconds later that he was gone with as little logic and consideration as he had approached me.
His absence left me hollowed and hasty to leave the cave; in that moment of sharp desperation I saw there was no escape. I trudged like a wounded animal seeking my golden man. Flashes and glimpses danced on the walls, and I flung myself at them, only to crash headlong into stone and choke on gold dust lodged in my throat. It was then I heard the sliver of a new song, thin as violin strings and delicate as moth’s wing from the bowels of this new wretchedness. But I was like a lost child, a kitten, easily diverted by baubles and tricks of light.
I followed the shadow dancers and joined the mass of people and creatures like me transfixed by the cave’s seductive song. It was a party like none I had ever seen, a celebration of ourselves and our enjoyment of each other. All around me, those with severed limbs and giant gaping holes like mine flirted, fanned flames, posed in beguiling shapes. I saw then that it was a feast and we were feasting on each other’s souls. And the hole inside me gaped open, vulnerable, grotesque, and demanded instant filling. The cave people found solace in other arms, found ecstasy and delight in mutual mastication.
I saw how easily it was to replace one golden man for another, how with each dance and touch of hand the connection was more shallow, each split less severe. Bees to flowers, all of us were bees and flowers both, the honey and the beast.
All the while we caroused in perfect entrancement, a new song spun itself around me softly, approaching and retreating like a rolling tide. It was just sweet and pure enough, small teaspoons of honey, to give me pause. For brief moments I’d see myself as if from afar and perceive that we were a hurting lot with holes too big and ugly to fill. But the cave song was louder, it was catchy and quick and we were all singing it raucously. And the cave people, the golden men, were easier to see and touch than intangible threads of solitary songs.
How intoxicated I was then, high on the fraternity of cave people, blinded by light so fantastic, by a sense of belonging so exquisite I could scarcely recall what it was like as a lone heroine in a world beyond the cave. How powerful, how cozy, the labyrinthine walls of the cave! How simple it was to join in the song that everyone sings, to pretend I was nothing before singeing moments, incendiary connections with other cave dwellers.
oh to be an illuminated one
The new song told me other things, whispered to me secrets whilst I reeled from one golden man to another. It persisted. I hid and it found me. In a particularly dark moment of gasping recklessness it blasted my eardrums until I could hear nothing else, and the cave dwellers moved as if through water. My eyes were opened and I saw:
The glittering cave world for what it was. Emptiness inhabited by empty people. Chains shackling even the most graceful dancers. A place of shadows and illusions and artificial light. A deep and dark sadness masked in grand robes of idle celebration.
And I fought it, as the dancers coaxed and pleaded for me to return, as hands clasped mine and my heart responded, as I remembered how cold, how gut-punching and lonely it could be outside the cave. But the new song now sung my name like an urgent mantra and my eyes could not help but see the fear and falsity driving every gesture and embrace. I saw a tiny pinprick of light, dimmer but more honest than the cave’s bulbs and flares and my soul leapt before I did and I followed it, the hollow cave song growing less and less enticing.
I emerged from the cave and morning broke, tumbling over me like rain, like rebirth.
… And if the light you think you have is actually darkness, how deep that darkness is! –Matthew 6: 23b
So come out of your cave walking on your hands
And see the world hanging upside down
You can understand dependence
When you know the maker’s hand.
So make your siren’s call
And sing all you want
I will not hear what you have to say.
Because I need freedom now
And I need to know how
To live my life as it’s meant to be
And I’ll find strength in pain
And I will change my ways
I’ll know my name as it’s called again.
— “The Cave” by Mumford & Sons