When my kids were three and five, I embarked on an adventure with my friend and her two kids, aged four and five. I had driven from Texas to California with my kids and invited my friend and her boys to join us in Cali, enjoy a couple of theme parks and then drive home with us.
While many great things came out of that trip (including the discovery of a life long Tribe member) when I think back, one event stands out in my mind. We made a spur of the moment decision to drive several hundred miles out of the way and visit Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. That part of the drive has its own story to tell, but what happened when we were at the Cavern still amazes me and the lesson I learned remains relevant today.
Carlsbad Caverns is a true wonder of creation. It speaks to the power of the earth and its forces to create change. And beauty. It’s also incredible to think that the Cavern itself is alive. And that our behavior in it can lead to its demise.
Given that neither of us had been to the caverns before, we opted to go with a guided tour. Prior to descending the approximately 750 feet down in an elevator, a park ranger gives instructions to the group about safety, both of the tourists, and the cavern. One of the most important instructions is the admonishment to not touch the walls of the cavern or any of its structures. The oils and bacteria on human hands can cause death to the part of the cavern that is touched.
I remember my friend and I giving each other the, “Uh Oh,” look. After all, we had four kids, five and under, with us. The thought of keeping them from touching anything was daunting. Let alone something as new and fascinating as a cavern with its stalactites, stalagmites and rivulets of water running down its sides.
Admittedly, I lacked the confidence that we could keep their hands from the rock walls, but we persevered none the less. As we exited that elevator, we reminded the kids of the possible consequence of their touching anything, and set out on our tour. To the astonishment of both my friend and me, we made it through the entire cavern tour, with nary an incident. Several times they were tempted, especially the youngest, to touch, but we would hear a, “I can’t kill it,” or a “Hands in my pockets,” muttered under their breath as they reluctantly stepped away from the object of their desire. They knew that inserting themselves into the life of the cave could have dire consequences.
Their restraint and self-control were rewarded at the end of our tour. Back at the ranger station there is a piece of the cave on display that’s sole purpose is for visitors to touch. I’m not sure that rock was prepared for the eight little hands that ravenously descended upon it, but it survived their assault. They caressed that hardened piece of earth as if it was the most fascinating thing they had ever seen. I’m not sure it had ever received that much affection in such a short amount of time. It was difficult to tear them away from it, but we eventually managed to and hit the road again for the long drive home.
To this day, my favorite picture from that incredible trip is the one of those four kids touching that stone. Not even Disneyland and Lego Land, with all their merriment, seemed to fulfill them the way touching a piece of the cavern did.
That experience, of watching those kids deprive themselves of something they desperately wanted because it wasn’t best for the object of their desire, has stuck with me. Sometimes we need to step away from a situation, keep our hands to ourselves, in order to preserve the beauty of it for others. However, just like the Touching Stone rewarded the kids, our restraint is usually rewarded. We may get the thing we were longing for or it may come in a way we weren’t expecting. Regardless of what the reward is, we will see the fruit of our labor. And in the end, the patience and perseverance often pays off in ways that defy even our wildest dreams.