I have an old iron box that holds things that are important to me. A pearl necklace my mother wore. A shark tooth from Mexico. A medal I earned once upon a time.
It is a simple thing. Metal and fabric. It’s even kind of ugly. But it is a symbol of an important day in my life.
When I was about 16, I earned the ugly thing when I took up a challenge to walk 50 miles in under 20 hours. We started up in Salt Lake City by the Zoo around 7:00PM and arrived in Provo at about 9:30AM the next morning.
As I undertook this journey, in the heart of Salt Lake City, I was with a large group of people. We were excited and energized, some people were running, others were goofing off, bouncing down the street.
The sun started to go down almost immediately. Everyone was bathed in a warm orange as the light stretched across the valley. The sun touched and then dipped below the horizon. Between 9 and 10 o’clock it became very dark. The moon was just a sliver, giving off very little light.
I had always thought that when the sun went down it was simply “dark”, but I could still see the glow of the sun, which had long since set, above the mountains to the west. It was strange – I learned that there are different shades of dark. The stars came out in a brilliant display, scattered across the sky like dust. I was captivated, craning my neck as I walked.
Around 1:00 in the morning – about 6 hours in – it became harder to keep going, and the spaces between the groups of people were further and further apart. Those who were there strictly for the social scene learned quickly that blisters weren’t fun. They stopped bouncing. They stopped being jovial. They realized that this was going to be a lot of work. I was still surprised that I could make out a pale glow above the horizon.
The 8th, 9th, 10th hours were the worst. 3:00am – 5:00am. The ghostly glow against the mountains was overtaken by a pitch-black sky. Clouds crept in and covered most of the stars. People began to quit. We started passing those who had gone ahead of us. Some of the people who had started out running, I saw limping toward their support vehicles, and then leaving in those cars.
It was the darkest part of the night.
Things became very quiet. No one spoke.
Everyone was wrapped up in their thoughts. People began to separate from their groups and to pair off. I ended up walking silently next to a man I knew, a local Fireman and paramedic.
Those who had been our support vehicle drivers stopped running errands for us and left us to go refuel or get food or sleep for a few hours. My Dad was there on and off, bringing food or drink, but he eventually went home to get a few hours sleep.
The darkness became oppressive. The dark was like a blanket, smothering me. I felt an overwhelming depression. Without light it became very difficult to stay positive. I forgot about my companion – it was as if he wasn’t there. The dark was suffocating, I felt like I could feel it pressing down on my shoulders, on my head, clouding my vision. I kept thinking, “Now I know what darkness truly is.”
Darkness is not hiding in a closet. Darkness is not closing your eyes. The deepest, darkest shade of night is when the light goes off inside of you and you are left, alone, groping through life only by faith, by hope, and by determination.
The man next to me spoke and shattered the silence. He said, “Let’s keep each other going. If you make it, I’ll make it. If I make it, you’ll make it. Let’s make a pact.” I wasn’t much interested in making pacts. My feet hurt. My calves and legs were beyond numb. I had some pretty large blisters on the pads of my toes. I was exhausted. I was depressed. I wanted to be in the car with a girl I had a crush on, not walking with a paramedic who needed a shave. And I now I KNEW what dark was, and I was afraid to be alone with the darkness in myself.
But I made the pact. We started pacing ourselves, making goals to go at least 4 miles each hour, pushing ourselves to do one mile every 15 minutes. Those 15 minutes dragged on and on.
3:15, 3:30, 3:45.
By 4:00am I was begging to see the sun. . . . It seemed like it would never rise.
It seemed like the night had stained the sky black, like thick ink had been poured over the sky and over my heart.
I came face-to-face with my true self at 4:45am. I knew my limitations. I knew my strengths. I became intimately aware of my breathing, the weight of my body, every nerve and muscle. I came face to face with the fear that I might be a quitter.
5:00. 5:15, and then 5:30.
I remember watching the first tendrils of light touch the clouds at the tops of the mountains.
Like seedlings pushing up through the earth, the sunbeams broke through the darkness with leaves of pink, orange, and yellow. I can’t describe the energy I felt when I saw that sun. Even though I was still 4 hours away from the finish line, I had a rebirth of hope and faith and determination and knew I was not going to have to face the embarrassment of being a quitter.
Your journey has been similar. You undertook what seemed like an enormously long journey when you began school at 4 or 5 or 6 years old. You were excited, bubbly, joining in the fun of the moment. You soon learned, however, that it was work. People started forming groups,
cliques. You found some quitting as the journey kept on.
You paired off occasionally, and not always with whom you should have or wanted to. Some of you ended up with bad relationships. Some of you encountered a pitch black night. Depression, hunger, exhaustion. It seemed as if the sun would never rise, didn’t it? Like you would never finish! I think it’s safe to say that some of you KNOW the darkest shade of night. Intimately.
By continuing to put one foot in front of the other when every part of you screamed at you to quit and by a sheer force of will in some cases, you made each step, trusting that the light would come into your life again even when you felt that there was no light anywhere in the world. You
got to know yourselves pretty well. You made it by faith and hope and determination.
When your new day dawned, you knew you could do it, and just look at you! You have done it!
There will be many times in your life when the sun sets and it seems as if it will never rise fully again, when your skies and hearts seem stained with the black of night. Have faith and hope and determination enough to keep moving. Remember what you have accomplished here. No one can take this from you.