The Narrow Places

I worked on the third floor of an old railroad building before our offices moved to another building close by last summer. To get from the parking lot to the building, I had to cross the railroad tracks, follow a bike trail that ran parallel to the river, pass a large parking lot, and take a concrete path through a tunnel. The tunnel was my favorite part.

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I didn’t like it for the first few months I walked through it. It echoed, and there was graffiti all over the walls. The tunnel was narrow, only a few people wide, so I frequently had to excuse myself and nudge past as politely as I could. Cigarette smoke seemed to linger in it, too, which made my eyes water and my lungs ache.

Then, one day, it occurred to me to slow down and let people pass instead of trying to push through them. I studied the graffiti on the walls with curious appreciation and wondered about the people who left it there. I marveled at the moss that grew in the most interesting places. I enjoyed the cadence of people’s shoes clicking on the concrete. After a while, I began to not even mind the smoke — I simply covered my mouth and nose with my scarf if it got to be too much.

The best part of the tunnel, though, was on the other side; as soon as I stepped through, I saw the railroad building, grand, imposing, and dichotomous against the modern skyline just beyond it. The building boasted so much history with its intricate brickwork and its breathtaking stained glass; in a way, I thought it should have asserted itself more, instead of settling so comfortably into such a mundane, corporate existence. Still, it seemed to enjoy its industrious tenants just fine. It didn’t seem in the least resigned to its fate. In fact, it seemed content to still be able to serve such an important purpose, even if that purpose was very different than that for which it was originally created.

I don’t always appreciate the narrow places like I should. But when I stop to think about the beauty that awaits me on the other side of them, they become some of my favorite places I have ever been.

But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. — Matt. 7:14 (NIV)

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