April 22, 2021

The light at the end of the tunnel matters

OK, I know the title doesn’t quite roll off of your tongue like usual, but that may be a symptom of still being in the tunnel.

But I think there is light now at the end of that tunnel — whether it’s this frigid weather we’ve been having (it was 55 degrees out yesterday, but don’t burn those winter coats yet, it is still February), the pandemic and its restrictions that have been dragging on for a full year now or the way some folks in our country have been treating each other for the past few years and even before that — there’s at least a glimmer.

We just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other and we’ll get there eventually. If you’re like me those steps seem to be slower and slower and it’s harder to get started, but I am still trudging along.

I’ve been trying to think of a nice story from my past where I kept on going and reached the end of the tunnel, but I’m coming up dry. Unless you want to go with the literal time I kept marching ‘til I got back to base.

Twenty miles (I can’t remember the actual number, but after letting Google do the math, 20 or so sounds about right) in full combat gear with the added bonus of bivouac supplies. It took all day. Not too bad at the beginning, but by the end of the march I had pain that felt like fire running across my lower back and down my left leg.

I kept putting one foot in front of the other until I stumbled back into base with the very last group of the company.

Unfortunately, this is probably a better story about asking for help than to keep going, since it set me up for a lifetime of sciatica pain that maybe could have been avoided or at least not cropped up until I was 50 instead of 19.

Side note: if you are struggling through the march, it’s OK to ask for help. Don’t listen to those drill sergeants in your head telling you you are worthless and making fun of the ones who chose to ride the broke-wagon.

The ones on that wagon, they didn’t sit down and die when they couldn’t make it. They didn’t struggle through the pain all alone. They asked for help. If you need it, RIDE THE WAGON. It still goes back to the base.

Another side note: I know those drill sergeants were just doing their jobs encouraging us to keep marching and I’m pretty sure if anyone had realized how much pain I was actually in and the damage it was doing, they would have made me stop. But I was, and still am for the most part, pretty good at hiding pain. One more lesson for us — don’t hide your pain so well that nobody stops to help you.

Back to the tunnel: vaccines are starting to roll out. Some things are getting back a little closer to normal. If you look for it, you can find people helping people and instances where skin color doesn’t matter or is even celebrated.

On a forum I follow on Facebook for nail designs where there is often a lot of snide and occasionally mean comments, someone posted they didn’t know what colors to choose for their nails to go with their very dark skin. The outpouring of support was amazing. More than 900 comments, last I checked, all saying the same thing. “You can do and be and wear anything you like.” “Your skin is beautiful.” The word “chocolate” came up a few times, along with comparisons to brightly colored frosting.

It’s a small thing. But there is light up ahead.

A couple of years ago, my daughter-in-law and my niece Meadow and I participated in the Great Inflatable Race. The idea is you run — or in our case walk — about two miles with a bunch of giant inflatable obstacles spaced out through the race. Mountains to climb, slides to go down, columns to battle through. You get the idea, playtime for a toddler.

Well, it was hot and Kasey and I were not in shape. After a climbing (and maybe falling off of one or two) we were ready to go home. But Meadow was having the time of her life, so we couldn’t just quit — even though we could see the parking lot. We kept going, slowly sometimes, taking a couple of breaks (see I’ve gotten a little smarter in 25 years), drinking some water along the way.

We both felt like we would pass out after a particularly long slog through a bouncy maze. (Meadow was ready to go back through again.) As we rounded that last curve before the biggest slide in the course, I know we were both thinking how easy it would be to just go around it, but it was the last one — the light at the end of the bouncy tunnel, if you’ll let me go back to my original metaphor. There’s a little boost of energy in knowing that you are almost there. So we did it. And we made it to the finish line alive and got our medals.

I’m waiting for that boost that will get us to the end of this current race. We can almost see the end. We just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other and make sure to take our vitamin K (for kindness to each other and ourselves).

In the meantime, to borrow a phrase from a little blue fish, just keep swimming. Ask for help if you need it. And keep your eyes on that light at the end of the tunnel. It matters.

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Let me know what matters to you at rsmith@crestonnews.com, 641-782-2141 ext. 6433, or c/o Creston News Advertiser, 503 W. Adams St., Creston, Iowa 50801.

REGINA SMITH

Reporter, columnist, teacher, children's book author, book store owner - Regina Smith has a wide range of experience in writing and education. She combines those interests and experiences to cover city and county government and human interest stories as well as writing a biweekly column in her home town of Creston, Iowa.