This was my fourth trip to Israel, and I’m glad that a lot of the things we did, I hadn’t done before. I had never seen the ruins of a Crusader’s castle, let alone three in less than a week, or been in the beautiful, nay pulchritudinous, natural grottoes of Rosh Hanikra. But left to my own devices I would have never chosen to walk through Hezekiah’s tunnel.
I have an aversion to dark, tight places. In university (now that I was in Israel for almost two weeks it’s university not college), I took “Holocaust through Literature and Film” and I end up having vivid recurring night terrors about being trapped in cattle cars or other tight places; one was that my friends and I were stuck in a sauna that was getting incrementally hotter.
All that being said, Hezekiah’s tunnel, originally a water tunnel providing water from a spring to the City of David 2,500 years ago, is now a walking tunnel, less than 1/2 a mile long: the sign said that the walk would be 45 minutes in the dark, and the water level would be (on 5’3″ me) mid-thigh in places. Our guide passed out little flashlights, because it is completely dark inside. I was trying for mind over matter, but my heart rate was rising as we descended staircase after staircase.
These people are having a lot more fun in the tunnel than I had, but you can see just how tight and how dark it was!
As we were about to go in, some small kids (the minimum age to go in is five) in the group ahead of us defected after 30 seconds inside. I bent over Bulldog and said, “Are you sure you want to go in?” Guess what answer I was secretly hoping for? A confident “Sure, why not?” came back to ? I made a choice not to let my past experiences ruin this experience.
At the tunnel entrance, after we were asked not to make echoes inside the tunnel, Dan’s mom and aunt started singing and the echoes began to freak me out. I snapped. I turned around and yelled at them, “I’m scared, and I’m trying to be brave and you’ve gotta stop it.” They stopped, and I went in and kept my mind on Bulldog, who was walking in front of me the whole way.
That’s not wholly true. I did draw my strength from my little trouper, who, after the water receded from his waist to his knees, kept asking, “when is it going to get deep again?” (Skater was way ahead of us, leading the whole 14-person expedition!) But my mind was also present to the tunnel itself. Especially the tunnel’s creation. Some stretches were straight, some curved. In places there were nearly right turns as the carvers from both ends tried to carve toward each other and meet in the middle. The small pick marks are still visible and touchable. I may have been in there for half an hour, but those guys worked down there for years, maybe spending a whole career chipping away rock. Glad I’m not them.
It was interesting, but I was unbelievably relieved to see the literal light at the end of the tunnel, and my feet were nearly frozen from the cold water and cold stones. I don’t own water shoes, so all that time I walked through barefoot. As we sat in the sunshine just outside the tunnel’s exit, my heartrate started to rise and there was truly a lump in my throat. My panic had been delayed long enough — it was going to manifest itself even though by then it was a moot point. I got lightheaded and leaned forward and took deep breaths.
Bulldog, of course, wanted to do it again.