64: The Tunnel

64: The Tunnel

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Positive

The Tunnel

There is light at the end of the tunnel.


When I was a young boy there was an abandoned train tunnel near our farm. It was a magical place to play.

The tunnel had been blasted through a granite hill in the 1850s so a narrow gauge train could reach the gold mines. The inside of the tunnel was black from years of coal smoke from the trains.

It could have been a dark, scary place but I knew every inch of it. I loved taking my friends to play in the tunnel because I was familiar with it and felt very brave.

“Don’t be scared,” I’d tell my friends in my most manly nine-year-old voice. “The tunnel is dark and long but as soon as you take your first step into the tunnel, you are already on your way out of the tunnel.”

I didn’t realize it then, but the lesson I learned about the tunnel would carry me through some dark, difficult times in my life. When a problem arises, as soon as I take the first step to face it, I’m already on my way out of the problem.

My family lived in bone-breaking poverty on a farm that was nothing but weeds and rocks. The old farmhouse was barely standing and we joked that the only thing holding it up was the termites holding hands. The roof leaked and every time it rained we’d have to put buckets and pots and pans throughout the house to catch the drips.

There were many nights we went to bed hungry.

I dreamed of growing up and buying a beautiful home for my mother and my sister so they’d never be cold or hungry again.

When I was twelve I promised my mother that when I was a man I’d buy a castle for her. I hung a picture of a castle next to my bed to inspire me. My dream had become my goal.

Only one person in my family had ever graduated from high school. No one had ever gone to college.

I was determined to be the first person in my family to get an education.

When I was seventeen I graduated from high school and enrolled at the local university.

I was a full-time student during the day and worked a full-time job at night. I was lucky to get four hours of sleep a night.

I went to a community college, using that as a springboard to go to two colleges. I then went to work for Wal-Mart for a year. I saved up enough to go on to get my master’s degree with honors.

On Thanksgiving Day I had dinner with my mother and my sister and I walked through the train tunnel one last time. I packed my belongings, including the picture of the castle, into my twenty-year-old car and left for Seattle to make my fortune.

Jobs were scarce and instead of making my fortune I ended up working temp jobs unloading fish and cleaning offices. This wasn’t my dream.

There are times in life when everything goes wrong. Just when I felt things couldn’t get any worse, they got worse. It was as if one day I was on top of the mountain and the next day the mountain was on top of me.

The date on my calendar read March fourth. I smiled and took it as a sign. I’d gotten bogged down and discouraged but now it was time to “March Forth!”

I’d almost forgotten about the tunnel. I’d almost given up halfway through and stayed in the darkness.

I reminded myself that anything bad or negative that comes into my life today is already on its way out and problems have a life span . . . they don’t last forever. No, not all problems are easily solved, all hurts are not quickly healed, but things change every day, solutions appear, answers are found and help comes from unexpected sources. Even though it is a cliché . . . there is light at the end of the tunnel.

I chose a new direction and became a realtor. In a year I’d saved enough money to send my sister to the university. She tried three majors, became the first female to get a stage-craft degree, and went on to get a master’s degree herself.

I’d kept my promise to help her.

The picture of the castle still hung on my wall. I still had one promise to keep.

I worked harder but not for the money. I worked to buy a home for my mother.

I’ll never forget the day I took my mother to the house I bought for her and handed her the keys. No, it wasn’t a castle, but it was a beautiful home. She said it was the happiest day of her life.

I think it was also the happiest day of my life.

My mother and my sister now had security. Our family would never be hungry or live in poverty again.

I love my life. Every morning when I wake up I’m excited about the possibilities waiting for me. I know boyhood dreams can come true and the impossible is possible. I know the greatest motivation for success is to succeed so you can help others.

If you ever feel you are in a dark tunnel . . . just keep walking until you see the light.

~Aaron Stafford

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