At the summit of Donner Pass in the Sierra Nevada mountains, there are some decommissioned railroad tunnels. With relocation of more modern and functional railroad tracks nearby, these tunnels have become a popular hiking spot for locals and tourists. They are accessible, the tunnels themselves being long and flat. On a hot summer day, they are delightfully cool.
On my first visit to these tunnels, I was struck with how dark they get once you wander any distance away from an opening. On one stretch, I really had focus carefully on what was in front of me. Although my eyes had adjusted and I could make my way without a flashlight, I had to take great care to look straight down at each foot placement to avoid obstacles like rocks, wood, or water-filled holes with depths unknown.
At one point, I stopped to look up and consider my surroundings. In the distance I could see a small circle of light, the tunnel’s end. I also looked behind me to the start of my journey, and could see the tunnel’s opening was just as small. But somehow, there was enough light to see the contours within the tunnel, pickax marks on the walls and the features of fellow hikers. I carefully continued walking with the available light.
As I drew closer to the end of the tunnel, I noticed my chin lifting. No longer was I looking at my feet to avoid hazards, but I was gazing out a few feet in front of me. The tunnel opening was becoming larger and larger. Almost without perception, I began staring straight ahead into the bright afternoon sunlight waiting for me to emerge.
I have been reflecting on this hike as of late, with so many similarities to the past year. I have heard it reflected, “there is light at the end of the tunnel”. We have all had different experiences this past year with COVID, racial injustice, trauma, loss, and grief. In my own darkness, I looked down just to take each next step. In this past year of tunnel, it did not take me long to adopt the practice of just doing what God put in front of me. Each time, God would provide the light needed.
I am not sure we are out of the dark tunnel of this year, but I feel our collective chins lifting. We continue to walk together. The circle of light at the end of the tunnel is getting bigger with springtime, vaccinations, and accountability. The darkness is yielding, and the shadows are lifting. The light of the resurrected Christ swells and spills forth, welcoming us to newness. We emerge anew changed by the journey, squinting as our eyes adjust.
Do not rejoice over me, O my enemy;
when I fall, I shall rise;
when I sit in darkness,
the Lord will be a light to me.
Karla Koon is a Worship Leader and Eucharistic Minister at St, Andrew’s Episcopal Church, in the Greenlake neighborhood of Seattle. When not serving at church or working as the Director of HR Operations and Administration for Catholic Community Services of Western Washington (Catholic Charities), you can find Karla, reading, quilting, golfing, hiking, kayaking, and (safely) gathering with friends and family.