The Light at the End of the Tunnel Vol. 1: Impossible Joy
Updated: Aug 29, 2020
Maybe, I Don’t Really Want To Know*
Photo by Irina Iriser
I’m sure that I’m not alone in looking for lessons hidden in the realities of everyday life. But when the light seems to fade from the comfort of our familiar world, we understandably seek these lessons the most. I’ve had this story in my back-pocket for a very long time, and its lessons have guided me through many a dark place. I can’t think of a better moment to share it than this.
‘Cause I Just Wanna Fly*
To me, one of the most electric experiences on earth is a concert. And as much as my introverted self loves the intimacy (and sustainability) of a small venue show, there is truly nothing like the transcendent power of a stadium event. To be a part of an ocean of individuals whose focus is one song is truly something awe-inspiring. So when I found out that my favorite band on earth was playing London’s Wembley Stadium in the summer of 2000, I knew that I had to be there.
I first heard British rock group Oasis in the Spring of 1995 on the virtual eve of graduation from one of the most affluent and exclusive small colleges on the East Coast. But while I was from a working class family, most of my classmates were a mix of “old money” heirs and heiresses from the worlds of business, media, medicine…There was even the rumor of a princess in our midst. To be fair, they were among some of the nicest and most brilliant people I’ve known in my entire life, but it was often difficult to relate to them.
The staff at the financial aid office all knew me by first name; most of my classmates literally didn’t know that the office existed. I walked to all of my classes on campus; my best friend drove an Alfa Romeo. I was set to receive a lovely watch on my graduation day; one of my friends was preparing to receive a Benetton store. In actuality, none of these things really bothered me, but it still somehow seemed that I was destined to be set apart from the things that I dreamed of.
I remember exactly where I was when I first heard “Live Forever,” a strident and beautiful anthem of rising above the circumstances of your reality to realize your dreams. I remember that it barely registered with my group of friends gathered in my dorm room. But I knew, in that moment, that the voices of working-class Manchester natives Liam and Noel Gallagher were speaking directly to me.
And now, I would be in London among 80,000+ believers, singing what had literally become the hymns of the British working class. Even though I was an American, born and raised, I was finally going to be among my people. Unfortunately, I could never have imagined what being among “my people” would have in store for me.
Lately, Did You Ever Feel The Pain*
A beautiful July evening in the open London air ended triumphantly with “Rock and Roll Star” and “Champagne Supernova,” perhaps Oasis’ finest manifestos to the people about shining a light in spite of any darkness. Almost every single song in the Oasis catalog had this simple thread running through it. It was what endeared everyone the most to their music. We were all practically floating when it came time to leave the arena.
As my brother and I had observed from our stadium seats, most in attendance at this particular show were male football (soccer) fans – as evidenced from the unbelievable number of club jerseys sported in the crowd – and drinking heavily. Witnessing tens of thousands of people across an arena, bouncing in delirious, intoxicated unison, united in one song, was quite something.
To be a part of those same thousands who were now drunkenly descending into the small tunnel of the Wembley concourse, divided by the chants of rival football clubs, was something else entirely. And then, as the tunnel was thickly packed and the crowd was pushing towards the exits, all movement came to a grinding and eerie stop.
There is perhaps no moment more terrifying than the calm before a storm. That was exactly what this calm felt like to me, and I was most certainly afraid.
In the Morning Rain, As It Soaks You To The Bone*
In the moment our fear takes shape and materializes right before our eyes, time stretches out before us. In these exaggerated moments of our minds, we reflect on the moments of beauty that feel lost to our past. We glimpse into a future that holds the complete unknown. Our present is gripped in the paralysis of fear.
While I heard the conflicting chants of London, Manchester, and Liverpool surrounding me, the recent past came rushing to my mind. The 2000 European Football Championship, where 174 English fans were arrested in Brussels for violence before their team failed to qualify for the knockout stages, had concluded in Belgium only weeks before. While I knew that the majority of this football-loving crowd were not “hooligans,” I realized that, by sheer numbers, there had to be more than a few ready for a fight.
And then, once more, the past rang out. 1989 saw the tragedy of Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield, where 96 Liverpool FC fans – through absolutely no fault of their own behavior – had been crushed to death against the fences separating the free-standing terraces and the pitch (field). The terror that I felt in that moment in Wembley Stadium was far from unfounded. And in that moment in that tunnel, I certainly believed that fear was my only choice.
Then something absolutely magical occurred. Something that literally changed everything that I thought that I knew.
Maybe You’re The Same As Me*
The ill fortunes of the English national football team have been well-documented and lamented by fans across England. No other team seems to so gloriously steal defeat from the jaws of victory, yet the English fan base remains among the most loyal of any nation. Watch any England soccer match and you will witness the crowd singing loudly and passionately, win or lose. In the late ’90s, the national fan base adopted the theme of a 1963 WWII film as their anthem of the moment.
The Great Escape depicts a group of British and American soldiers, led by the eternally cool and collected calm of Steve McQueen, escaping their POW camp via a series of – you guessed it – tunnels. And here in this very tunnel, someone had started “singing” its theme song, which is difficult to do, given that it has no actual words. But this is yet another gift of the English football fan: the ability to turn “Da-da, Da-daaa-da-da-da” into a recognizable song. It started as a thin ray of light and spread through the crowd like the beams of the sun.
Everyone, myself included, started singing. And while no circumstance of our reality actually changed, our ability to choose joy over fear had created a miracle. There was no threat of violence, no fear of getting hurt. The odds of that happening had now shrunk to almost zero. And while we still were no closer to it, we all now were certain that we would see the light at that tunnel’s end.
We See Things They’ll Never See*
I know now that we were given that moment to learn how to search for the good lying before us, to recognize and appreciate the true abundance and beauty that had surrounded us all along, and to dream that the light that awaited us would be even more glorious than we could ever imagine. This was what all of those Oasis songs that I loved were truly about all along. Not rising above the material realities of your social class. But rising above whatever circumstances stood before you to find impossible joy.
But most importantly of all, I believe that we were given that moment to know that we forever have the power to chose faith over fear, and that the choice of joy had more power to transform our circumstances than we had ever imagined humanly possible.
There can be no doubt that the world is in this very same tunnel. We have moved from the joys of a community and the sweet melody of a familiar song. Many of us find ourselves in places of darkness that we could never have imagined. Unfortunately, none of us are immune to tragedy. But it turns out that we can significantly stack the deck in our favor. The path is often not an easy one; walking in faith requires a dedicated practice and persistence. But it is a simple path, for we can absolutely develop an immunity to fear.
And that immunity carries much broader implications moving forward than we have even been told by the world.
You and I Are Gonna Live Forever*
I would be absolutely lying if I told you that I walked in perfect fearlessness and joy in this time, unlike any we have ever known. It seems as if fear is broadcast to us in every moment, and unfortunately much of our modern society seems to operate within this paradigm. But many of us are awakening to this reality, and seeking out voices that move against this stream. My personal walk has been blessed strengthened by two amazing works: Thank and Grow Rich by Pam Grout and Battlefield of the Mind by Joyce Meyer. Each approaches the same subject through a different lens, but both highlight the practical steps to cast fear aside, and detail exactly how joy has a power that we never dreamed possible, to transform the circumstances of our lives .
The upcoming Vol. 2 will outline real strategies for moving away from a fear-based consciousness, as well as the emerging science that confirms how moving from fear is absolutely life-changing. But I hope that I’ve laid the foundation and pointed the way today, that your walk might be strengthened, that your song may soar above your fears. And to those who find themselves in a darkness that appears to have no end, that you may find a comfort, a peace, and a hope, beyond mere words, that the sun will shine once again.
I do truly believe that all of us are coming together now as never before–in song, in faith, and in joy. And I truly believe that because of it, an amazing miracle is taking shape–a light the likes of which none of us has ever before witnessed. This is the light that awaits us at the end of the tunnel, and touches us even as we are still within it.
Sending my never-ending prayers of Blessings, Health, and Love, and I will see you over the rainbow. XO, Maria
In Memory of the Hillsborough 96–April 15th, 1989.
*Live Forever lyrics by Noel Gallagher