For most of my life, I wandered around the bottom of an oppressively dark and deep pit. But although I sensed something was "off," everyone else believed that it was an open, airy expanse full of light. And I reacted to that confusing contradiction like everyone else; I sank into all sorts of distractions to blind myself to the truth:
We were all stuck at the bottom of a dark pit.
Finally, I could no longer deny it. I started feeling around the sides of the pit for an exit. I pounded on the walls and ran around frantically, smashing into the sides of the pit.
Immersed in their own distractions, many looked at me disdainfully, or tried to discourage me – even to the point of getting angry at me. Others just ignored me.
Sometimes, like a lot of people stuck there, I would just slump down, hoping to somehow be rescued, or simply wait for it all to end.
But gradually, I found other people who'd come to the same realization. Together, we engaged in deep, meaningful conversations about the pit and how to get out of it.
They helped me realize that I needed to invest in self-improvement – and particularly, on improving my attitude toward the pit. I watched people search for an exit, and admired how they lost neither their temper nor their positive attitude, no matter how many times they smashed into the sides of the pit. They themselves also seemed pretty proud of their calm demeanor. These people strongly advised me to drop all the distractions – which definitely helped.
Despite the improvements, however, the reality of the pit grew more disturbing. Without the artificial light from the techno-distractions, the darkness of the pit became – well – that much darker. And now that I was freer to search for an exit, I grew increasingly panicky about not actually finding one.
Maybe there wasn't one?
No way – the ancient books of wisdom promised it existed. Furthermore, with the artificial light gone, I now sensed a natural light. All the wise people said it came from above. But fear, obstinacy, and bewilderment stopped me from even trying to get a glimpse.
Some people simply hoisted themselves onto ledges just above our heads and whenever we complained about being stuck in the pit, they smiled down on us and chirped, "You just need to climb up – like us!"
Yeah, right. Who did they think they were fooling?
Others recommended long-term medication. "Then, when you smash into the sides or unsuccessfully search yet again for an exit, you won't get upset!"
Of course, the ancient books emphasized leaving the pit by actually climbing up – and we had examples of ancestors who'd managed to do just that – but we all thought that was something only really strong people could do, not pathetic wimps like us.
Sometimes, someone who was part way up would throw us a rope and explain how to climb up after them. Those people encouraged us to raise our eyes. Sometimes, we risked looking up and saw a cloudy night sky – not too encouraging. But sometimes, it was star-studded – that was better. And sometimes, it was kind of light but cloudy or stormy – yet that fact that there an illuminated opening gave us hope.
A few times, I stumbled by approaching those who remained immersed in their distractions and gently invited them to join me.
Most ignored me. But some said, "Ew, look at you – all bruised and bloodied! Why'd we want that? Anyway, we have our reality shows, movies, video games, novels, beers, super-bass music, and double-cheese pizza – hey, want some?"
"Wellll...." I hesitated. "I guess I wouldn't mind just a bit – I mean, as long as it doesn't contradict the idea of climbing out of the pit...."
Then I got stuck.
But even stuck, I couldn't completely forget my yearning to leave the pit.
And they said, "What pit? Quit shoving that wacky belief down everyone's throat."
"If you would just take the meds I'm taking," said still others, "you would be able to do all the mitzvot, stay in the pit, and enjoy it!"
I said, "But we everything we've learned says to try to climb out of the pit!"
"Aw, that was then," I was told. "Just work on your middot."
"Look," I said. "I understand. I actually used the feel like you. Just – just do me a favor and look up at least once."
"What, and get a crick in my neck?" some said.
Yet others claimed, "I did that and I didn't see any light – or not much, anyway."
The ones still immersed in their distractions and their denial just exploded. "You crazy fanatic!" they said. "This isn't a pit, this isn't darkness! I mean, look at all the light coming from my iPod! Anyway, if there was real sunlight, it would blind us. See why your religion is so bad? It wants for everyone to go totally blind!"
So I started to climb up on my own, taking my kids with me. It was arduous, exhilarating, and easy all in one. Sometimes I slid back a bit, but mostly I made progress. From below, everyone discouraged and ridiculed me. They tried pulling me back down, even throwing poisonous darts and pill bottles at me. I struggled to stay hopeful and patient. The fact that there was a sky – a sign of a way out – kept me going.
Then the darts and the pulling got to me and I slid all the way down to the bottom again, leaving my kids dangling above.
I pounded the floor of the pit with my fists as I cried and screamed.
"Look," everyone said, pointing at my hands. "Your skin is roughed up. And you lost a shoe. And those scraped-up knees and dirty toes – ugh."
"True," I said, not sure how to allude to their own issues – broken arms, bruised faces, and missing teeth; broken, bruised, toothless children...all from smashing into the sides of the pit – without seeming insensitive or critical. Although they sure weren't concerned about making me feel bad. And I winced at the memory of smashing into the sides of the pit, my own beloved children in my arms. I hadn't meant to hurt them and neither did these parents.
"Beloved friends," I started out tentatively, "I know you love your children. But look at what staying in the pit is doing to them...."
"Oh, yeah? Well, look at your kids dangling up there!" they said.
"Okay, but they aren't the mess they were when I was still stuck at the bottom of the pit – "
"Listen," they said, "we know what we're doing. Certain authorities informed us that this is the way and that we're fine. Getting smashed is just part of this generation. And, heck, look at you – you just leave your kids dangling up there...."
"I didn't leave, I fell! Anyway, they are much better off dangling than crashing into the sides of the pit all the time...."
"We don't see any difference," they said, turning away.
With great tact and gentleness, I still tried to take them with me. I knew that some of them possessed tremendous strength and agility and could scale the pit much better than me – if only they would just start climbing. But they spat at me.
A long time went by before I picked myself up and started climbing again. This time, I had a few more distractions weighing me down, in addition to the people sabotaging me ("For your own good!"). I slid back even more this climb.
The truly wise people from above called down, "Just keep climbing! Eventually, the distractions will fall off on their own and anyway, your climbing also helps those stuck at the bottom. The main thing is for you to just climb."
Finally, I chucked off as many distractions as I could and shifted to a quiet, out-of-the-way route where no one could get me. And I started climbing again. I reached my children and continued where we'd left off.
Truth be told, this route is a little bit lonely and strange and slippery. And my fingers get clawed to the bone. And I'm kind of dirty and scratched up. But the light of the sky keeps pulling me toward it. And the people who've made it out keep calling down encouragement and advice. And along the way, I meet fellow climbers (and fellow downsliders), and we encourage each other and learn from each other – from both our successes and our failures.
And we all keep on climbing and clawing our way up.