When you get to the end of the tunnel, it won’t be what you thought it would.
Where you’ve arrived pales in comparison to the beacon it looked to be when you were on the other end. This isn’t because where you are now isn’t beautiful or incandescent, but rather because there is something unexpected:
“But I made it,” you think. “This is what I wanted.”
It is. But it isn’t all you wanted.
We see lights at the end of tunnels as intangible and unreachable because we’re accustomed to failing, being told we are going to fail, or the fear of failure — or all these at once. So we put blinders on and sprint, eyes on the prize, backhanding distractions and resisting the need to rest. If we rest, we might stop, and if we stop, we might not start again.
But little do we know that along the way, in that tunnel, there are geodes and crystals and creatures. There are windows that peer into tranquil glens and rare experiences. There are stories painted on the walls, and there is music trickling down to greet you, and there are friends with cups of water begging for you to slow down and let them help you, let them sustain you, let them be a part of your journey.
Too often we are so intent on getting to the light at the end of the tunnel that we forget to enjoy what the darkness has to offer.
When we get to the end, we don’t feel what we thought we would. We do at first, basking in the glow of what we’ve worked so tirelessly for. Then the adrenaline wears off and reality sinks in, and so rises the inevitable question: “What next?”
What happens when you get to the end of the tunnel?
As sure as the sun rises, another light blinks over the horizon. A tunnel appears to offer companionship, because there are no lights without tunnels or tunnels without lights.
You take a deep breath, reinstall your blinders, lace up your shoes, and launch — full speed ahead.
Again, you miss the magical bioluminescence of memories you didn’t make, things you didn’t learn, people you didn’t meet, and connections you didn’t foster. Again you make it to the end and you shed your blinders and take a breath, reveling in the feeling of having made it, yet again. It feels blissful to stand in the glow and look back and see how far you’ve come.
But if you look closely, you’ll also see what you missed.
Suddenly, the light’s a little dimmer, your space a little colder. You turn to look forward, and another light emerges, another tunnel with it.
This time, I urge you: leave the blinders where you discarded them. Throw out your too-worn shoes, and feel your bare feet on the ground beneath you as you walk.
As you enter the new tunnel, it’ll feel scary and oppressive. It’ll seem too dark and difficult and you’ll want to pick up the pace because all that matters is what’s at the end. But that is not all that matters.
Look to your left. Reach out a hand and feel the facets of gems peeking out, glittering and giggling and giving. Walk a little further and notice the window that overlooks bustling streets and sleepy cafes with pastries and coffee desperate to be tasted. Continue on, and to the right a friend waves hello and asks to walk with you. It scares you, because you’ve been told you have to do this alone, that the reward is somehow invalidated if you ask for help. But it’s nice to have a friend, so you say yes.
As you stroll, you say hello to birds and bats and flowers and bees, and see what the other windows have to show you. You find some more friends along the way, and even stop to share a drink and a laugh, excitedly chattering about waits for you at the end of the tunnel. You stroll ahead, reading the stories that have been scrawled on the walls, inheriting wisdom from those who were brave enough to paint it for you. You wiggle your toes in grass and sand and maybe you fall a couple of times and get bruised, but your friends help you up and wipe the dirt from your knees. You see and hear and smell and feel and taste and breathe and laugh and cry, and by the time you and your felicitous cadre make it to the end, it is bright and warm and you can feel joy in the marrow of your bones. It’s not a result of you having made it to the end of the tunnel once again, although that is a marvel indeed.
It’s the result of having thoroughly experienced, weathered, and enjoyed the journey.
Now you all sit and toast to how far you’ve come, the memories you made along the way, the bonds that were forged through thick and thin, high and low.
When a new light winks in the distance, the mouth of a new tunnel opens wide to welcome you, you’ll all rise and enjoy it when you’re ready.