The Southwest flight from Phoenix landed in Sacramento on-time that Thursday night; a welcome end to a long and hot trip as witnessed by the sweat stains on the collar of Brad Smith’s white button down shirt. Why do I ever wear long sleeves to Arizona? Because his boss thinks it’s more professional than wearing a polo shirt, even though it was 102 degrees by 9:00 am this morning, and his last sales call ended at 6:15 that evening (with a resounding and fully anticipate NO!) Clearly rejection is professional when wearing a damp and smelly long sleeve shirt Brad thought as the plane landed.
The mechanical lady’s voice coming from the speaker on the air conditioned shuttle told Brad that he was headed toward the main terminal. Rather than go straight to his car parked on the 5th level, which was normal, he was headed downstairs to retrieve his suitcase from the lower level. The jogging gear Brad packed but did not use rendered his overhead bin sized suitcase too small, so he used the bigger one; ( note to Brad – stop pretending you will ever exercise while traveling when all hotels that you stay at have a bar). The shuttle stopped when Brad wasn’t paying attention and he bumped the lady next to him.
“I’m sorry mam, didn’t mean to jump you, errr, I mean bump you.” Brad’s voice sounded a little slurred, but he thought he had only drunk two or three Vodka’s on the flight, so he wasn’t even buzzed. She gave him a look but didn’t say anything; the look said enough.
Brad and his backpack shuffled toward the escalator with the sign above reading, “Down to baggage claim.” The mechanism looked as any other escalator found in an airport or mall; dark dull plates to stand on with teeth-like projections bordered by lines of yellow paint for safety he imagined, and shiny stainless steel walls with moving hand rails. The Up escalator was ten feet to the left leaving a chasm between the two escalators filled with nothing. In the current lighting Brad couldn’t see the floor.
Looking back up the escalator and then down, Brad was surprised that he didn’t see anyone, since the flight he was on was almost full. He guessed that he was the only person who had planned to exercise. Odd, the Up escalator was absent of people too. The ride to the baggage level should have been short, maybe 90 seconds at most, yet the escalator continued downward into darkness well passed two minutes. The area was well lit where Brad stood, but darkness swallowed the metal plates and stainless steel twenty feet below. Looking back from where he had come from revealed that darkness followed about twenty feet away. The sweat stains on his shirt were growing now, because even with energy saving lights that only come on when you enter a room mode, he should have been able to see the baggage level, the arrival level, or at least some people somewhere! What the heck was happening?
Appearing out of the darkness from below was a metal bridge linking the Up escalator with the Down. Brad could see, as he slowly moved downward past the bridge, that it was about two feet wide and also made from stainless steel. He touched it to be certain it was real; it was cold, colder that it ought to be, but solid. Looking back, a sign hung from the bridge dangling into the void reading, “Chance number one.” Then, in less than twenty seconds, it was gone into the darkness above while Brad continued his slow but steady decent into; that was the problem – he didn’t know where he was going.
He suddenly turned and ran as fast as he could up the down escalator. Taking two steps at a time he was aiming to run back to the top where the lights were on and people were near. In college Brad was a good runner, not on the school team but a mainstay in intramural sports (not just for the girls and beer). His pounding heart and shortness of breath were reminders to Brad that college was a long time ago. He had almost reached the point where the light ended and darkness began when his legs just quit. Five years without a decent workout had come home for payment; he was too exhausted to continue. Looking down trying to catch his breath he saw his backpack still one step below, and now the darkness was twenty feet back. With all his effort, nothing had changed. A reflection of light bounced off another bridge. It looked the same as the previous one; moving passed he read the sign, “Chance number two.”
Now full-fledged panic fueled fear had its talons deep inside Brad, and it wasn’t about to let go. Given the circumstances he eagerly embraced its firm grip. He tore off his coat and tie, stuffing them in the backpack, loosened his stained collar and readied for the next bridge. Somehow he was going to cross that bridge and get to the Up side of this nightmare. He didn’t know where Up was headed, but instincts told him Down was a worse choice.
Ten seconds later another bridge was in view, but this time the sign was on the upward side so he could read it before reaching the bridge. It read, “Last chance for a long time.” As it approached his heart sank while the sweat ran down his back; this bridge was smaller, only about a foot wide. Here and now was the time to get out of this Twilight zone, he reasoned. He threw the backpack across the gap (what was so important in the backpack, papers and notes)? Jumping toward the bridge he tried to grab ahold of it and pull himself up. But he miscalculated the movement of his downward trek and landed short, banging his knee on the hard steel wall. Now the bridge was five feet away and moving.
Brad ran, like a dear fleeing a cheetah (almost), but as fast as his aging and out of shape body would allow and then leapt with everything his legs would give. In the next moment Brad was strattled across the bridge holding on with legs and feet; blood now flowing from his knee. Looking down in the abyss Brad saw nothing but black; glancing forward now only five feet from his hands was the Up escalator. He scooted an inch at a time it seemed, like a caterpillar on a trembling leaf. Pushing with his legs pressed hard against the side of the bridge and pulling with his hands on top he slowly made progress to the other side. Once in a place where his fingers could touch the upward moving handrail he held back, pulling his body into a kneeling crouched position as close as possible without touching the Up escalator. Then with the limited speed he could muster, he grabbed the handrail and pushed with his feet, rolling without any grace onto the steel steps leading upward. He hurt everywhere, but his fear was already fading, replaced by exhaustion. Looking up he saw –
“Sir, it’s time to wake up and bring your tray table to its upright and locked position. We will be landing soon,” said the young flight attendant. Brad was home.
1 Corinthians 10:13
No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.
For every path leading down there is a path leading up. It’s easier to find, if you look earlier in the decent, but God promises a way out is always available for those who look for it. No matter how deep you go.