I ride the commuter light rail to work. I have for years, because I haven’t had a car since 2002.The light rail line in Atlanta flits above and below ground. It dives under the city in downtown, and emerges just north of midtown to weave its way through the landscape. There are a lot of tunnels.
The day I’m remembering was a winter day in late 2005, perhaps January 2006. It was cold, and like much of Georgia, the trains are glitchy when there is ice on the tracks. The train ahead of us had off-boarded due to breakdown, there were delays. The train I finally boarded was packed full of people, even in the very first car, where there are usually a few seats left. I edged my way toward the glass-topped door that separated the driver’s cabin from we seething masses. I like leaning against the wall, it preserves a little bit of personal space. I like watching our progress through the windshield of the train. It’s a perspective we don’t often get farther back in the rail car.
That day, people were pressed against my back and shoulders as I looked through the front window. It was not yet sunrise. The sky was lightening to a dismal pewter grey, but it didn’t promise much. On that day, I was traveling to the far northern end of town. We ducked into the tunnels just south of the city Capitol building, and I continued to watch the tiny lights reflecting off the tracks ahead. We had several stops through midtown. It was fun to watch the stations open up and rush up beside us from that perspective.
After the Arts Center stop, there is a very long tunnel before the train bursts out above the highway and travels the rest of the time in daylight. I liked this commute because we went underground in the twilight of dawn, and emerged after sunrise.
I knew that this tunnel would take a while, but I built up that moment of reaching the end of it in my mind. I was eager. I was rapt on the dark shadows of the train tunnel.
Then, there! I saw it! A bright spot that could only be the light at the end of the tunnel!
But it didn’t grow closer. We were still traveling through darkness. I blinked and I caught my own face reflected in the glass partition.
I blinked again and I realized that what I thought was the light at the end of the tunnel had been my reflection. The light at the end of the tunnel was in fact the light shining in my own eyes.
Never before had I been thunked in the forehead with a living metaphor. Happiness, joy, hope – they come from within me. I get them in return as much as I share them.
I wrote a poem about this image – how could I not? But it’s the image that I want to stay with today, not the words.