The Herald, March 2015
When I lived in New York I used to drive through the Queens Midtown Tunnel. I lived on Long Island but worked in New York City, and it was the best route to get me there. Twenty minutes to a half hour and it was usually a clear shot. I would hop on the Long Island Expressway, and head westbound toward the tunnel. The tunnel let me out between East 34th and East 42nd Streets, Midtown Manhattan area. Then I could chose to head Uptown, Downtown or proceed Midtown. Much easier and quicker than the 59th Street Bridge, but the Midtown Tunnel goes UNDER the water of the East River instead of over it.
Serving the area for 75 years, the tunnel is 6,414 feet long with a 12’1” clearance. Yep, it wasn’t made for big trucks to go through. It was built in the late 1930’s during FDR’s reign and was part of the “New Deal.” President Roosevelt was the first to travel through on November 15, 1940. Since then, it has become a major link between the Queens and Manhattan boroughs and currently serves over 80,000 travelers per day. Consisting of 2 tubes with four traffic lanes, it is really quite magnificent the way it was constructed, without the modern technology we have today. Aside from upkeep, and a renovation to the interior in the 1980’s, it has remained unchanged and is as strong as ever. But it is scary.
Every year since 1981, a week before the Ringling Bros. & Barnum Bailey Circus opens, the tunnel is closed to traffic entering Manhattan for the annual Animal Walk. The elephants are paraded through the tunnel and down 34th Street to Madison Square Garden. Though it is late at night, 34th Street is filled with onlookers – young and old alike. To see and hear the elephants as they traversed their way toward the Garden in a trunk to tail line, escorted by handlers and the famous Gunther Gebel-Williams, all amidst the cheers from the crowd. Safe in their area below the stage floor, visiting the animals was always my favorite part of the circus. They didn’t mind going through the tunnel.
I was ten when Gunther Geber-Williams made his American debut with the RB&BB Circus in 1969. I still have the large and colorful program, along with every one since then until his final performance in 1990. He was spectacular- both with the animals and in his appearance. He was a tall, blonde, muscular man born in WWII Germany who knew from an early age that the circus would be his home. Spending most of his career in the center stage of the greatest show on earth, he was awesome. He was touted as the greatest animal trainer and became a legend in his own time. I loved the circus: the animals, clowns, acrobats, high wire acts and the finale of the man being shot out of the cannon. The tunnel was the part I didn’t like – and still don’t; but I went through it in order to get to my destination-the circus.
The thing with travelling in the Midtown Tunnel is that you are in this tube. Sure, there is electricity and lights, but you don’t see the “light at the end of the tunnel” until you are about fifty feet from the exit. That leaves 6,364 feet of inability to see the end. There is only one way in and one way out, and that 1.3 miles of tunnel can be pretty scary and loud. I’ve been stuck in the tunnel when a car had broken down. It isn’t easy to maneuver around them and that feeling of being closed in and helpless gets stronger.
It is similar to life in that way. One way in-birth, and one way out-death. Sometimes the road in between the two is pretty darn scary and you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. Yet, you keep going. What else can you do? I just arrived home after attending the funeral of a girlfriend. She was my age. She was a happy and pretty healthy woman one day, and gone the next. The funeral parlor was packed with loving family and friends who will probably be in shock for quite a while, I know I will. I can close my eyes and see her smile; hear her laugh or whisper crazy things to me. I’m grateful she didn’t have to suffer as she crossed through to the other side of the tunnel, yet I will miss her dearly.
A baby being born leaves the womb to travel down a tunnel towards a light, and what waits for it in the light is usually parents with a great deal of love and warmth. Then there is the long stretch of life; another passageway. At the point of death we travel down the final tunnel toward the light, but we only surmise what awaits us on the other side. We each have our own assumptions, our own conclusions. For me I choose to believe that the loving arms of God await me.
I close my eyes and focus on God. The more I draw my attention upon him the softer my mind becomes. Far in the distance I can see a small spec of light. I take ahold of God’s hand and we slowly move through the warren toward the light. The way is smooth and comfortable with Father. I recognize the faces of those we pass. My mother, my father, aunts and uncles, and friends. Faces of those who have passed and those still alive. I see areas where there are great boulders and very uneven roads alit by the lightning from life’s storms. As the Greatest Ringmaster departs from me, He looks over His shoulder and smiles.
My heart hears His voice tell me, “It is not the light at the end of the tunnel that is important. Do not make the light your only motivation, your sole destination. Focus instead on the journey. The expanse between the tunnel of birth and death. It is what you do IN the tunnel that is of importance, who you meet and how you treat and care for them. Though you may not always see the light at the end of the tunnel, though you may not understand the storms of your life or its’ darkness, trust and follow Me, as I will guide and comfort you. I will always be there until you cross through and are forever with Me.”