Gracious Ruin

The darkness in the cave is extraordinary, like nothing I could have ever imagined. Where I thought terror would instill, there’s comfort deep inside me. Warmth where I had expected cold. Joy in the emptiness surrounding me.

“This is total darkness,” Other Andrew tells us, “and this is one of three places in the world that we can see it. The first is deep inside a cave. Second is bottom of the ocean. And finally, space.”

My eyes don’t try to adjust like I thought they might. Instead, they feel more relaxed. I want to laugh when I realize that focusing on the world around me in the light actually makes my eyes tired. I didn’t realize it until I didn’t have to try anymore. It’s like I’m floating in a sea of darkness, my breaths coming even and long.

“Carefully, slowly wave one hand in front of your face,” Other Andrew tells us. “Can anyone follow their hand back and forth?”

My eyes move where my hand goes, but it takes me a moment to realize that I don’t actually see anything. I can’t observe myself in here. The youngest one in our party says yes, but Other Andrew kindly explains, “Actually, we believe we can see it. We think we see it. But we really can’t.”

It’s a moment beyond words where we all fall silent. There is no light. No sound. For a tiny spans of time, Jed and I might be the only ones in the room. In the cave. In the world. I can hear my heart pumping blood through my veins, down to my fingers intertwined with his. I can feel the reverberations of our muscles contract together. I can see in a way that I never have before, when the world drops away and all that is left is me and him. Our hearts. Our souls. The emptiness filling us. The space of the world close enough to touch.


Another survivor of Hurricane Andrew, La Wanda Scott, said something even more profound that resonates deep within me. “I say it hasn’t affected me, when in actuality it has devastated me… I keep trying to escape, trying to run away. But I can’t. It’s everywhere. Everyone is trying to hide [their feelings]. But we can only wear a mask for so long. Our true faces will soon be revealed.”

The storm wasn’t a one-time thing for people. It echoes throughout our lives. It’s trauma, just like any other trauma. We can never forget, never let it go. The storm changed everyone. It made humanity realize just how powerless we are to the earth’s change. It makes me wonder if we have any choice at all.

I read these stories, see these pictures, and fall back in my chair, staring at the books full of storm-torn photographs where I had hoped to discover where my fascination of hurricanes began. And it is here, on the pages of a book, spoken by people who had survived. The storm changed everything. It wiped the slate of the earth clean, giving way to two decisions:

Try and latch onto the person one was before the storm.

Or destroy the mask, reveal one’s true self, and create something better than was there before.


The end of the tour comes sooner than I hoped. Something about being down in the caves had felt eternal. Beautiful. Infinite. And I didn’t want to leave.

At the very end of the tunnel is a giant wooden door that will lead us back to the mountainside. As we come upon it, Other Andrew points up to the right. There’s a hole there, big enough to slide through, yet covered by bars. “That’s where James Gough and Frank Johnson originally found the cave. They slid down that hole there.”

Jed waits by the door, and I lift my camera to take a picture of the place where it all began. I feel gratitude for the protection of the cave here—that the destruction of Hansen Cave did not befall this one. And in that same moment, I see a truth. Timpanogos Cave was protected because Hansen Cave was destroyed. The survival of Timpanogos is intrinsically tied to the utter desolation of Hansen. It could not have lived without the death of the other. And maybe life is worth the damage.

With that, I take a picture of the hole and walk back out into the light to meet my husband, letting Other Andrew quietly shut the door behind me.