After a week of smoke from fires burning all over the west coast and a weather pattern that was blowing the smoke into the Puget Sound, keeping the disastrous air trapped here, the rains finally came and washed the smoke away. My family and I immediately escaped outdoors for an adventure. I had run the Tunnel Light Marathon along the Iron Horse Trail years ago and I thought my boys, 7 and 5, would find the tunnel interesting and entertaining. I recalled the tunnel was quite long. Upon looking the tunnel up, I learned its precise length was greater than I’d remembered – 2.25 miles! Wow! We took their bikes to ensure they could cover the distance there and back. They were very excited to pack lots of flashlights.
As we set out, I thought back on my previous experience of the tunnel. I remembered the tunnel was near the beginning of the marathon course which began in Hyak, and we were advised to wear a headlamp and extra layers. At this point in the run, we were still in a large pack as we set out to traverse 26.2 miles and the tunnel served to keep us confined and in a tight formation. With hundreds of runners funneled into the tunnel, the numerous lights illuminated the space and I didn’t find much need for my individual light. In fact, my light seemed to make little difference. As we spread out a bit, however, I remember my light came in handy for avoiding holes and puddles. Likewise, because we were running in a large group, I didn’t really notice just how cold the tunnel got.
The experience was quite different as a family of four. There were other people on the trail, out enjoying the fresh air, and we encountered several families in the tunnel. However, I was not prepared for the extent of the darkness or the significant drop in temperature that had not been as noticeable as I’d run through the tunnel years ago, part of a pack of runners. Allowing the boys to ride their bikes was a solid decision but also meant we were operating at different paces, too.
The temperature in the tunnel was COLD! And, wow, was it dark!!! The darkness was consuming and there was quite a stretch of distance between being able to still see the light from one end to the time we could finally observe a glimmer of light at the other end. We stopped many times to adjust lights, put coats on the boys, etc. The boys asked many times how much further until the light would reappear. They kept going, however, trusting that I knew we would indeed exit the darkness, and relying on the flashlights and my light to proceed. They also stuck close by, and together we traveled through the darkness. Now and then, we came across people traveling back the other way, dogs and the sounds of children entertaining themselves filling the void as they traversed the long, dark path.
Finally, a speck of light appeared! I was astounded by the celebration that erupted from my boys, and the level of excitement I also felt. The journey was still quite long until we emerged from the tunnel, but the hope that was ignited fueled us to continue on towards the light.
I was struck by just how far the light at the end of the tunnel shown, the distance the light was able to penetrate. The distance even once we could finally see the light was still quite a distance to cover. Despite the pinprick of observable light representing the end of the tunnel, I was also struck by the sense of hope I felt – I could see the end! A sense of determination and calm set in in that moment. Once we finally emerged, I took a great breath in – we’d made it! Two miles feels much longer with less light, fewer people on the journey with me, and with children in tow who repeatedly asked when we would emerge from the darkness.
Once on the other side, we took our time exploring and soaking up the view and the sunshine. When we announced we’d have to go back through the tunnel to return to our car, there were different responses. My oldest son was on board. Made even braver by our recent journey, he set out ahead of us, fearlessly leading the way, the first to complete the mission. My younger son was astounded we’d have to go back through again and that there wasn’t another way to go. He stuck with us, making sure to stay in the path of the light I carried.
As we reentered the tunnel, I was again taken aback by how quickly we were engulfed by the darkness. This time, as my younger son’s flashlight failed, I carried two lights for us both. He slowed down to stay near me, and I tried to go faster to keep up with him. My husband and our dog also hurried to keep up and to use my light to see their way forward. I found myself a bit annoyed at how many of our family were relying on my light, to be honest, and I found my own frustrations driving me forward to find the end of the tunnel as quickly as possible.
Later, I pondered this feeling of frustration and reflected on the experience further. I didn’t mind sharing my light earlier when we were each shining our lights, sharing and attempting to make our way through together. When I ran the marathon, I found I hardly needed my own light to see by because of the shared glow of everyone else’s lights merging together. Yet when I became the only light, I felt the heaviness of the darkness, the burden of being the only light and having everyone else reliant upon my light.
In this time of Covid, political stress, racial tensions, and isolation, I find myself thinking about this period much like being in a tunnel. I keep telling myself to be and see the light! We each have light within us, to illuminate our path before us one step at a time. We each have light to share, too. We each also need to recharge our lights from time to time, to rely then on the light of others to make our way forward. And the more lights we can gather with, the less alone and less reliant we are upon our own individual light to help move us forward.
The journey was so much easier when I ran the marathon – with so many others running forward, trusting together in the path forward. Not for a moment questioning the path and knowing that our running goal lay far beyond the end of this tunnel, the journey was bright, warm and fast. When we went through as a family, the faith my children showed in our light and in our pronouncement that the end of the tunnel would soon appear was something to learn from indeed. When we went through the tunnel again, I was inspired by the courage and learning of my older son. I was proud as he released his fear and journeyed forward to light the way ahead now knowing from experience that the end of the tunnel would come. I also learned from my own new experiences of the tunnel, some important lessons as well. I found my reflections and learnings particularly meaningful for this time in which we are all living. My learnings I am taking forward and reminding myself of constantly are these:
Have faith, there is always an end to the tunnel!
Persist! Don’t quit in the middle and let the darkness consume you; seek the light!
Remember you have overcome before. Let those triumphs be reminders and give you courage. Just like my older son used the first tunnel experience to fearlessly tackle the second, call upon your experience and inner strength. This may be a new path, but your experience and strength are not new and will still serve you.
Be fearless in your charge ahead, knowing from previous experience, you can and will conquer the darkness.
Share your light with others, and don’t be afraid to ask for others to share their light when your batteries are running low.
Remember to recharge your light and that it is okay to ask for the light of others. Just as I saw with my younger son, sometimes we need to let our own light recharge and to follow the light of others.
The light is brighter when combined with the light of others.
Light always shines through the darkness; the light will overcome!
I hope you are all well and this is a welcome reminder of the power of your light and the light of others as we find our way forward! The journey isn’t all about having the the confidence in the outcome; the journey is about having the self-confidence you can overcome and the courage to move forward despite your fears. Be the light, seek the light, choose to see the light around you! Keep the faith, there is always light at the end of a tunnel!