Click on this link for an audio version of the story below – The Ladder of Light
Once upon on a time, a woman found herself at the bottom of a deep, dark well. It was called “The Well of Despair” and was a place that she went to when she couldn’t cope with the world, her life or simply with those with whom she shared her existence. It was a place where she could curl herself into a ball and rock herself to sleep.
When she was in the well, she would often look up and see the small white light that she longed to reach – it was the entrance to the well. But it always felt such a long way away and she had no idea on how to reach the light. Whenever she looked around her, all she saw were the dark walls of the well. The light was too far to reach and the darkness seemed strangely comforting. Down in the well, she could simply be with her fears and not fight them. She could become her fears and not have to pretend anymore.
One day, after she had been in the well for a long time, she heard a voice. She recognised the voice instantly as “Educated”, who came to see her often. He brought his knowledge of her situation and had studied its causes and believed he had solutions. He shouted down from the entrance to the well. “It’s OK. I have the solutions. I will send down the medicine and the therapy you need. I hope you can hear me as you seem such a long way away?….”
She heard him but knew that Educated had tried to help before. He had shouted many times from the entrance to the well and she had taken some of his advice. However, she always found herself back at The Well of Despair.
Then she heard another, even more familiar voice. It was “Sympathy” and she knew her well too. Sympathy loved her and would often visit and call down into the well. Today was no different. “I can see you down there! It must be so lonely. We love you and want you to leave The Well of Despair. We have a warm place for you and want you to join us soon. We know it’s hard, but try to climb up the Ladder of Light. It is there if you look for it.”
She knew that Sympathy meant well. But however hard she tried, she just couldn’t see the Ladder of Light. She so wanted to be with Sympathy again and to feel her love. But however hard she tried, the Ladder of Light never came into view.
And then she heard a voice that she hadn’t heard before. It was gentle and warm. This voice also spoke to her from the entrance to the well but she could hear it much more clearly. “Hold on, I am coming down to meet you” the voice said.
Suddenly, he was beside her. “I know how you feel – it’s so cold and dark down here isn’t it?”
She looked at him in the darkness and felt the warmth of his smile. “Yes it’s cold but how did you find me and how did you climb down into the Well of Despair so fast?”
He placed his arm around her and held her to him. Speaking gently in her ear he whispered to her. “I have been in the Well of Despair many times before. I know my way in but I also know my way out. I have come to carry you out and to show you the Ladder of Light.”
For the first time since she could remember, she felt safe. In his arms she felt that he knew her and that he could sense her feelings and why she had struggled to climb out of the well.
“But I’m scared” she said to him. “Part of me wants to stay here in the darkness”.
“I know” he replied. “I felt that too, but then I made it out of the well and found myself again. I can help you do this too. Just climb on my back and I will carry you out of the well.”
She climbed onto his back and he walked just a few steps. There, just a few paces away from where she had been crying, was the Ladder of Light. She couldn’t believe that she hadn’t been able to see something so close. He grabbed the first rung of the ladder and started to climb. He talked to her as they climbed, reassuring her that all would be well.
Half way up the Ladder, she looked up and saw the light was much brighter now. She felt good and wanted to reach the light as fast as she could. “I’m ok to climb the rest of the way by myself now” she said to him. He smiled and gently placed her onto the Ladder.
“I will be right here behind you” he said.
As she reached the top of the well and entered into the light, she looked behind her for the man that had helped her climb from the Well of Despair.
“I don’t even know your name” she said to him and was ashamed that she had allowed him to carry her up the Ladder of Light without knowing his name.
“My name is Empathy” he said.
And in that moment she realised that Empathy was all she had needed to climb out of The Well of Despair. She smiled and thanked him once again.
“Now that you have climbed out of the Well” he said, “you will also be able to climb down and help others find the Ladder of Light. This means I will always be with you and you will never be able to lose me”.
She realised that Empathy was now a powerful force in her life and that she could use it to help others climb the Ladder of Light. Her life now had true meaning and she was grateful for her encounter with Empathy.
And she never feared The Well of Despair again …