Longing for Light

“Is there a light at the end of the tunnel?” a thoughtful person asked at a gathering of people telling Downtown Eastside stories. (1) How many times have we asked ourselves that question, “Is there a light at the end of the tunnel?”  Are we getting anywhere with our work, or are things just as bad as ever?  Is gentrification crushing the low-income community of the Downtown Eastside in spite of all our efforts?  Will Insite be destroyed by people who are unable to understand the extensive research on harm reduction?  Is the light at the end of the tunnel really a train coming right at us?  Sometimes we are overwhelmed with sorrow, although we want justice to prevail.

We work to make our community a better place, not a perfect place, but a better place.  If we look for immediate results in this work, we are in danger of falling into despair.  Society does not change quickly, and our commitment is for the long haul.

Thomas Merton was a Trappist monk, a peace activist, and a writer.  A friend of his was falling into despair because he couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.  Merton wrote to his friend, saying, “ Do not depend on the hope of results…you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all…As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results, but on…the rightness, the truth of the work itself…in the end, it is the reality of personal relationships that saves everything.”

A good example of a determined commitment to the rightness of a cause is the five hundred year old resistance movement of first Nations people against injustice.  This inspiring struggle will continue from one generation to another until justice is done.  Leonard Peltier of the Anishinabe and Lakota Nations has been unjustly imprisoned for over thirty years, yet he does not despair.  He wrote in his book, Prison Writings – My Life is My Sun Dance, “Never cease in the fight for peace, justice and equality for all people,” and “I know that without compassion and respect for all of Earth’s inhabitants none of us will survive –nor will we deserve to.”  Leonard Peltier has turned his life into a prayer,m and he wrote, “No prison bars can stop a prayer.”

A wise Inuit poem recognizes our longing for light.  The poem goes like this:

“In the eternal darkness\the crow
unable to find food
longed for light
and the earth was illumined.”

This poem is telling us that the light is not at the end of the tunnel.  The poem says that light arises out of our longing.  It is within us, but we need silence and full attention in order to see it.  When asked what he taught his children, the Lakota Chief Standing Bear replied, “They were taught…to look when there was apparently nothing to see, and to listen intently when all seemingly was quiet.” (2) People who follow that path will see the light.


(1)Eastside Stories – The people, The Voices; sponsored by the Vancouver Moving Theatre, the Radha Yoga and Eatery, and the Carnegie Community Centre.

(2)American Indian Prose and Poetry:  An Anthology edited by Margot Astrov, Capricorn Books, 1982.

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