Have you ever been down a mine? I’ve been down both an old coal mine and an old slate mine. Both were very strange but enlightening experiences.
Enlightening because it made me realise the conditions that some people work in. Strange because of the effect it had on me – others in the group said afterwards that they felt similar.
As part of the visit to the old coal mine, people are taken on an underground tour of the disused workings. During the course of the time we were underground, the guide told the group a little of the history, both of that pit itself, but also of mining in the UK.
At one point the group was asked to stop, and the guide explained how air doors were used to aid ventilation in the mine. He then explained that in days long gone these doors were operated by children as young as 5 years old. However, these tiny children had to sit by these doors in total darkness. The group were then asked to switch off the lamps on their helmets. The darkness was all encompassing. We all felt isolated even from the person we knew was standing no more than a meter away. The guide explained that the children sat in these conditions for about 12 hours a day, and the only light they saw was from the pit ponies towing wagons of coal. The relief felt by the group once the guide said to turn lamps on again was palpable.
I also remember an ‘outward bound’ type activity week that I went on. We went cave walking, and all of a sudden the lights went out. We didn’t have lights on our helmets. We had to hold each other’s hands and guide our neighbours along what we were told was a very narrow pathway above a steep drop. The mix of the fear of falling, and of the desire to help those in front and behind, was very odd. After what seemed ages, the light came back on just as suddenly – and we were walking through a wide level-floored cave! It was a test from the leaders to see how we coped in darkness, how we helped others and how we overcame fear.
On Holy Saturday, the darkness of the tomb is clearly the symbol of the day. However, there are many who still work in darkness and only get glimpses of light and hope now and then. Many people feel that the current pandemic feels like darkness. In darkness there are often also points of light and hope, however negative a situation we are caught up in – but sometimes we need to open a door or find a companion to discover that….