In the Heart of the Volcano
Great, I thought, knowing that meant we would be taking the longer, more treacherous course. I, the younger sister, didn’t get to participate in the vote because I was simply tagging along with my brother’s Scout troop to the Ape Caves at Mount St. Helens, a dormant volcano in Washington. Of course my older brother and his friends would pick the harder, scarier course.
The pamphlet we had picked up on the way into the 2,000-year-old lava tubes boasted of several grim-sounding obstacles in the mile-and-a-half-long cave. While the shorter course had boulders to hike over and narrow parts of the cave to deal with, the longer course sounded like the big leagues to me. Although the upper cave would begin as a large, auditorium-sized space, we would quickly encounter a path so narrowed by rock piles that scooting on hands and knees would be the only option. At one point, there would even be hardened lava falls—eight feet high—and scaling them would be our only option forward. To my timid mind and short body, this path sounded like Mt. Everest.
Sure enough, soon after we passed the beautiful, wonderful open space of the chamber, the walls narrowed and we came upon a towering mound of rocks. Fighting back the panic and gritting my teeth, I slithered through the first of several long, bumpy crawl spaces.
When we reached the lava fall, eight feet seemed a lot taller than I had expected. My brother and his friends were goofing off at the top, having already scaled the slick rock face. One of them reached down and helped me struggle to the top.
After what seemed like an eternity, we neared the end of the cave, and I finally caught a glimpse of daylight. Looking up, all I could see was bright blue. Though we weren’t quite to the exit ladder yet, the sight of birds flying in and out of the hole several feet above me was immensely calming.
I suddenly became aware of the sheer magnificence of where I was. Millennia earlier, nature had violently rampaged through these tubes, and here I was, tramping through her wake—tiny, safe, and empowered.
Although it had been a nerve-racking journey, I had done it. As I stepped off the final rung of the ladder and emerged into the fresh air, I was truly, blissfully, exhilaratingly free.
The summer before I began college, my family and I went to Normandy, France, for the sixty-third anniversary of D-Day. We stayed in an old French farmhouse that was once a hospital for those injured in the war; later it had been converted into a nunnery. It had stone and wooden floors, a wood-burning stove, and elaborate stained-glass windows. I felt like I was living in the past, and I loved it. But staying in that house was hardly the highlight of the trip.
On the morning of June 6, my family and I went to ceremonies and visited battlegrounds, and then we walked to the infamous beaches. Our cold, misty morning at Normandy was strikingly reminiscent of the weather on the day we were commemorating. I could almost see boats approaching the beaches and soldiers climbing ashore, meeting their end right there in that cold sand. I walked over to the hillside, through the many craters where the soft, green grass had been bombed—where a once-peaceful land had been disturbed.
I walked through the cemeteries, unprepared for the innumerable markers I was seeing. Looking across the green lawn, I saw slabs of white stones evenly spread out as far as I could see, many representing “unknown soldiers” who had fallen. I read a few personalized epitaphs: Bible passages, poetry, and reminders that death was not the end. There were heartbreaking messages of love lost too soon and of young lives cut too short.
As I looked at each marker, I imagined the widows and orphans, the mothers and fathers who had been left behind, and I felt the universal emotion of being a mother or sister or daughter or friend anywhere—of being someone who cares about someone else. I found myself loving and honoring people I had never met.
That day, I learned about sacrifice, but not in the way I had read about it in history books or seen it in pictures at museums. I saw sacrifice in the eyes of old men we passed in the village and in the floors of that farmhouse that had once sheltered the wounded. I saw it in the lines etched into those tombstones.
That’s when Normandy felt real to me.
Saratoga Springs, Utah
Lost for a Cinnabon
My older brother and I were off to get a Cinnabon. He was nine, and I was seven.
After we had begged all the way through airport security, Mom finally relented—and off we ran to get our gooey treats.
A26. A26. A26. We kept repeating those four syllables over and over again in our heads. It was the gate number where Mom would be waiting—A26. The smell of iced cinnamon swirl led us closer and closer to the Cinnabon stand. A26. A26.
In line, we contemplated: orange or original? Obviously, original. The worker handed us our sticky pleasures, and we took our first bites before we took our change. Our Cinnabons didn’t last long, but now we were
satisfied and ready to travel. A26.
We sped down the terminal. At least, it looked to me like we were speeding while we darted past the snail-like people who weren’t on the auto-moving walkway. Eventually we spotted a bright green “A” at the end of the hallway. A26—almost there.
We reached the end of the A terminal. A20? At first we thought the little top of the “6” had worn off. But no, it was definitely “20,” not “26.” I stared at that number like a deer stares at a car’s headlights, unable to move. I was positive that something bad was about to happen.
We were lost. Forgotten. We were so young; if you added our ages together, we were barely a naïve teenager—only 16. My brother grabbed my arm, yanking me free of my cliché deer analogy. He had to be the man now.
We ran down the airport speed track, retracing our steps, hoping to find A26. We could almost see the Cinnabon stand again and then—thud! Everything was a blur. A frantic woman had collided with us at the end of the track. Mom!
We embraced, not letting go. The intercom interrupted our emotional reunion: “Last call for the Goggins family. Please report to Gate C15. Again, last call for the Goggins family.” Mom swung me onto her back and grabbed my brother by the hand. We sprinted. I found out that you can make people look like snails even when you’re not on an auto-moving walkway.
When we got to our gate, the flight attendant greeted us. “Thank you for choosing Delta,” she said. “Your seat numbers will be A24, A25, and A26.”