by Glenda K. Fralin
I don’t know exactly the moment we stepped into that tunnel, but I know that it was on a Sunday after church when the family was out for an afternoon walk. We loved our nature walks after church, for they allowed us to look deeply and intuitively into God’s beautiful creation. My husband and three children, Bobby, Sissy, and Kat all participated with pleasure.
This Sunday we took a path on a trail we’d never explored before. We drove forty miles north to a well known park for that Sunday’s adventure. It was a rocky path with no real markers, but landmarks were not difficult to figure out. We were experienced hikers so we had nothing to worry about.
I took the picnic cooler out of the car and my husband Robert grabbed the old plastic cloth we liked to throw over the picnic tables. You learn early on nature walks that birds love to make their droppings on picnic tables. We ate at a table near the beginning of the rough path. Simple sandwiches, pickles, chips and cola were our lunch and then we each had an insulated flask to take along filled with water.
We trekked contentedly into the trees as we followed the trail, soon surrounded by the beautiful colors of the wild. We played a game of naming the various shades of green. Some red leafy plants along the path, their shape and hues reminded me of flames. The leaves boasted intense reds in the center, then slowly and indistinctly changing to a yellow orange at the edges. I bent and stole a leaf from a plant, thanking God for the small gift to be identified later. The odors of moist tree bark, mosses growing on anything shaded from the sun, rock dust, and mud under wet leaves were sweet and sour together. I loved that smell. I could hear birds of different species: the call of a Bobwhite quail, the chirping of sparrows, and the pecking of a woodpecker on a tree somewhere out of view.
Yellow and white butterflies fluttered by, with the rare monarch joining the pallet. Squirrels scattered noisily up trees as they heard our footsteps. Their indignant little voices made me laugh at their antics.
We talked as each pointed out something that caught their interest. My son Bobby was thrilled to draw our attention to a pile of deer droppings that were still steaming. The girls each said “oooough” and punched Bobby’s arm giggling.
Robert looked ahead and saw the entrance to the tunnel. We were all elated with a sense of adventure. “That is so odd,” noted Robert. “That is a man made tunnel out here in the middle of nowhere. I wonder what its purpose is. It cuts into a hill, but the hill isn’t really all that high or steep from the looks of it. See, there is even a path to take up and over the hill if we choose.”
“The tunnel,” the children cried in unison.
“Ok,” Robert laughed and winked at me.
As soon as we entered the tunnel, something in my spirit suddenly felt lonely. I thought at first it was just me and the dimness of the interior, faintly lit with overhead bulbs. The color of the brick turned to a dull gray instead of the beautiful red and orange colors we saw from outside.
The feeling wasn’t so distinct then, it was just a kind of let down that I attributed to a creeping weariness. I worried about the children too as I tried to keep them close in a place dark as that manmade cave.
Then I noticed that the whole family was quiet. Maybe our noon meal was weighing on us. As we explored further the tunnel seemed to grow wider and at one point we stopped to sit on some benches along the side.
The children started complaining about small things at first, then fighting with each other.
My husband looked at me and we knew that we both felt the same loss of something in ourselves. It seemed individual yet all inclusive.
“Do you all want to head back the way we came?” Robert asked. “I think we made a mistake taking this route.”
More than a request it was a command and none of us argued. But, as we turned to follow our steps back to the entrance we met with a hideous blackness that was like an impenetrable wall. We then looked ahead of us at the other hiker’s in the cave. Calling out to them, we finally realized they could not hear us.
Yelling louder, we noticed one man turning back, but he obviously met the same result. We could hear him, but he could not hear us. He just attempted to turn back like we had.
We were in his black.
Robert looked at me and the kids who looked panicked. My earlier sense of dread was a warning, and now it was too late. Robert commanded. “Ok, we are never alone; we know that even if we feel we are. I don’t know what this place is, but we have to do the one thing we know to do. We need to pray.”
Kneeling Robert prayed fervently for our family and our journey through the darkness. Then I said my prayer, mirroring his words and adding a request for healing of my spirit. The children each knew Christ, and each prayed as well.
“Do you remember the poem Footprints in the Sand”?
They all answered me to the affirmative. “Think of that poem, and think of when God said ‘I shall never leave you or forsake you’.”
We began to repeat the words as a continuous prayer continuing our walk cautiously. Then I quoted scripture from Roman’s chapter eight that ‘nothing can separate us from the love of God if we love Him.’
I think we still felt the dullness of spirit, but as we looked ahead we could see other’s were weeping and tearing at their hair in despair. Parents were crying out in terror in front of their own children and the children were screaming in panic. But, they were more like echoes as we caught up to the place where each had walked before.
We heard a hum from behind and I knew there must be other’s behind us, in our black. I reasoned that if we could see those ahead, the ones behind must see us.
That meant they could hear our echoes as well. “Take heart in God, pray to Him. We have passed here before you and are praying for us all.”
My family never questioned what I said, but looked at me with complete understanding and joined in relaying the promise to those following.
We finally saw a glimmer of light. We had no idea how long we were in that tunnel.
It was at the side of the tunnel shining into the darkness ahead so that we were able to escape back into the natural world outside.
We saw those in front of us passing as though they had not seen it. We called back to those behind to look for the light at the side of the tunnel. There was an opening there.
We walked out and found ourselves on the path that had led up the hill. We were at the summit. We grabbed each other and cried, praying our thanks for anyone to hear.
Behind us we noticed other’s escaping into the sunlight with us. We all prayed together and they said that if they had not heard us, they may well have missed the exit.
Together we followed the rocky path through the trees down the opposite side of the hill. Our spirits were back and we wanted to explore on, careful to stay in the sunlight.
When we reached the bottom of the hill, we searched the entire hillside for an exit from that tunnel.
We never found one.