Legends and stories of sink holes are salted throughout human history. They are something we can admire from a distance like The Great Blue Hole off the coast of Belize–the pictures are absolutely stunning to look at, I imagine seeing it in person would be an incredible experience (I might even like to take a dive in it).
But the truth about sink holes, is that they terrify us. The idea that suddenly, the ground beneath our feet could give way and we could find ourselves tumbling less like Alice down the rabbit hole and more like a rock careening into the impromptu gullet of the earth–it is the stuff of nightmares. And it is real. One opened beneath the bedroom of a Florida man a few years ago and I don’t believe his remains were ever recovered. It is as though he disappeared without a trace.
Our fear of sink holes, then, is not unwarranted. This fear reveals a lot about us as human beings. Hardly anyone is attracted to the idea that as any point in time, we could simply disappear and no one would ever see us again. I’m not sure which is more terrifying to most people, that you personally could vanish or someone you love could. Neither are outside the realm of possibility.
I’m writing about sink holes because they have fascinated me since I looked them up after the Florida man made the news. I read up on how scientists explain their formation and recently, while on vacation in the Great Smokies, I happened to glimpse a spot on the paved two-track that was beginning to crumble. The road curved in a series of switchbacks, which led up to the cabin my wife and I were staying in, and at that particular bend in the pavement that I observed, I could see that rain water had washed out a lot of the dirt underneath the pavement and that was why it was crumbling down the side of the mountain.
This is in line with what I read from scientific explanations. Now, I’m not taking sides. I have many dear friends who would explain sink holes as an act of God and a signal that the end of the world is coming. I won’t dispute that. It is also neither mutually exclusive with scientific explanations. The scientific explanation simply states that in traditional sink holes, water in the ground erodes the bedrock that the dirt rests on and with no support, a sink hole is created.
Man induced sink holes happen when–essentially–bedrock (or pavement) is set on top of the dirt and the ground water underneath washes away the dirt–leaving only a shell that is now unsupported by the dirt that once made it secure.
What intrigues me about both of these explanations is how metaphorical they are of us as human beings–and this could be why we find sink holes so scary. If the bedrock is our character–the hard inflexible thing that guides us–the dirt is the flexible filler in our life–our choices–and the ground water simply represents external forces, then we can draw a lot about ourselves from sink holes.
In the case of a man induced sink hole, when we form a bedrock over a patch of dirt, we believe we are sealing in that dirt and permanently creating a structure–say a road or a sidewalk or a foundation of a house. In our lives, we could parallel this with a decision to cement our identity to a political party or religion or any organization. Allowing that top layer to harden removes us from having to deal with what is being coved up–the dirt, aka individual choices.
This can be good and bad. Good when we think about laws like “don’t murder” or “don’t steal.” It can be bad when the cement that is set does not encapsulate the policies that are right and just–think Nazi Germany. The good news for the case of a bad top layer of cement is the bad news for a good top layer of cement: external forces can erode the dirt out from underneath the cement, and in time, it will fall in on itself. Good policies are not immune to erosion and good people are not exempt either.
In the case of natural erosion, where the cement is buried under layers of earth, we can imagine how the underlying bedrock can be dissolved and how a person’s inner character can as well. The water in the soil has to get down to the bedrock. It burrows through the dirt, arrives at the front door of the bedrock, and lays a slow and gradual assault. As human beings, this is like a stress fracture. It is hard to point to the moment the breaking actually happens, but we can usually point to the moment we noticed that our performance was significantly impaired.
What is scary is the idea of external forces in our lives either wearing away the ground we stand on or getting down and eroding our deepest held principles. When this happens, collapse most often follows. If I had to point to what specific thing that is responsible for the anxiety we feel–I would point my finger at control, or lack of control. That something outside of ourselves can impact our lives so dramatically as to cause it to implode.
The good news, however, is that unlike the stagnate cement or bedrock, we as human beings are free to push back against invasive external forces. I, and many others, are very fortunate to live in America–a place where our right to free speech is protected, among other rights. I am free to say “yes” and free to say “no” to the various propositions that crop up during my day. Americans–and all of humanity–should challenge those ideas that make them feel uncomfortable rather than accept them with out reason. One’s bedrock should be sacred and defended.
However, like the top layer of cement or the natural bedrock in the soil, neither stays the same. Old roads are removed and replaced with better ones and as the earth shifts and the soil fluctuates, bedrock can be dislodged or folded under other bedrock. What I mean to say is that that hard substance is constantly in a cycle of improvement. We should be too. If we aren’t getting better, if we stay the same, then I can see how the fear of the end of times could surface. Any road or bedrock that does not change or get replaced will–over time–wear away and become a sink hole (where water is present). We are no different. When we refuse to change and better our character as human beings, we join the waiting room–waiting for our bedrock to suddenly give way and our lives to implode.