As tunnels go, it’s not much to speak of. But when the city of Carrollton extended the walking trail north up the greenbelt behind our house, they engineered a long 120-foot tunnel under Rosemeade Parkway, one of the main thoroughfares in our fair burgh. This ten-foot wide and ten-foot tall portal offers safe passage for walkers, runners, cyclists, and rollerbladers alike, not to mention baby strollers, wheel chairs, and an occasional coyote. In December of 2005, it serendipitously also offered hope.
November and December of that year were not good months for the Barkley household. From a week before Thanksgiving until Christmas Eve, six long weeks, Vicki lay in the hospital. And I was there with her unless I was at work or taking care of the myriad of things needed to be done when a spouse is hospitalized. By then we were empty nesters, but even so we were exhausted and depleted by the se-riousness of her illness and the length of time she spent in her hospital bed.
One late Sunday afternoon in that December, I said goodbye to Vicki at the hospital and dejectedly drove home. I decided to take a quick mental hea lth bike ride before darkness approached, and so I headed north up through a greenbelt left desolate by an early winter. As I approached the south end of the tunnel, I slowed, hesitating, as I was sure I heard a chorus of angels – a halleluiah hallu-cination? No, but instead, as beautiful acapella sounds emanated from the cement tunnel, I saw a teenage boy motioning me to ride on through. About 15 to 20 members of a church youth choir lined the side walls of the tunnel, exquisitely blending their four-part rendition of “Angels We Have Heard on High.” As I pedaled past, they all waved to me while continuing to sing, filling the tunnel with as sublime a resonance of sound as I had ever heard.
I followed the trail until it soon dead-ended at Furneaux Road, where I turned around for my return trip down the creek. Again I heard the echoes reverberating ahead of me, and this time, curious, I stopped at the tunnel’s north entrance and listened until they finished their refrain. Laughing and joking as only teenagers can, a few of the youngsters explained to me that their choir often visited the passageway on Sunday at dusk as it was a fun way to practice, and as one young lady said, “we can really hear all the parts in here!” I thanked them for their heavenly chorus and waved goodbye.
As I cycled towards home in the muted twilight, hope welled up in my heart as I heard them begin their last song of the evening. Thomas Moore once observed that, “music . . . serves the spirit by directing our attention to the eternal.” I would add that in doing so, music can also create hope.
Two weeks later I brought Vicki home late on Christmas Eve, thankful for both the hospital and to be out of the hospital. We survived those bleak times with the help of family, friends, and col-leagues. Some assisted me with decorating the tree and the house prior to Vicki’s return home, some took care of us by buying our Christmas presents, some cooked our Christmas dinner and other meals, and many visited Vicki in the hospital, surrounding her with hope. Vicki later would tearfully note, “because of all of them, I had a Christmas.”
Since then, she and I have experienced deeply moving Evensongs in a charming chapel in Williams-burg, at hallowed Windsor Castle, and at a majestic basilica in Florence – but never again have I been as personally impacted by choral music as in that enchanted tunnel that late afternoon in Car-rollton, Texas. And in the years since, I never again encountered the choir practicing there.
But to this day there are times I ride my bike or walk with Vicki on the trail, and as we approach the tunnel, if I tilt my head just right, I can hear the voices of a holy angel choir, reminding me that hope is everywhere “echoing their joyous strains.”
Our hearts have often been hurting and heavy during this current year in which we live. So from our house to yours, know that the healing songs of humankind may appear in our darkest hours, and that our Christmas wish for you is that hope dwells with your family during the year to come.