The Dark, And Another Sleepless Night

I slipped into the bedroom to find my slippers, careful not to wake my sleeping husband. Not careful enough; I kicked the cardboard box on the floor, and he stirred.

I need to make that return to Macys…

The box, a reminder of my long list of things that need doing. My creeping around in a dark bedroom, a reminder of these sleepless nights that have seized me in recent months. Hormones, or stress, or simply brain overload; whatever it is, it keeps me awake at the most inopportune – and surprising – times.

Tonight, I was sure I’d sleep. The alarm buzzed this morning at 5:30AM and we were up and out the door by 6:45. It was a long day of leading, juggling my Campus Pastor hat with my Musician Hat, interspersed with Wife and Mom and Human Being; Sundays are nothing if not an entertaining mix of roles for me. A long day, but a good day. Home at 7PM after a stop at the store for milk, I found that my 16-year old had made breakfast for dinner. He’s mastered the family recipe for ‘breakfast goulash’, and it was spot on tonight.

So, I didn’t have to cook. I putzed around and relaxed and headed for bed, early.

Sigh.

It’s 1:25AM as I write, so you can see how that went.

I read for a while, and I got up eventually and did some work. The house was quiet, settling around me, and I remembered my husband stepping outside after dinner. ‘It’s getting cold’, he said. ‘Really cold.’

I found myself compelled to go outside.

Last month, my friend and I drove to the University of Richmond to hear Barbara Brown Taylor speak. An author, pastor, theologian, deep thinker – Taylor’s books are some of my favorites. Her most recent work, Learning to Walk in the Dark, is on my bedside table – one of those books that I read in short bursts, because it offers such rich, thick substance that I can only digest paragraphs at a time.

(Unlike, say, John Grisham’s latest, which I devoured in about four hours straight.)

The book details her experience in the dark – not only the metaphor and its deep spiritual application – but also the literal dark. As in walking outside in the yard, in the dark. At night. Taylor’s writing is exquisite, mesmerizing. And, as a good writer will, she provoked action in me. I’ve started to pay more attention, to not assume that the dark is something to be hurried through. I try to meander a bit more when I walk the dog at night.

It is not an easy thing.

So, tonight – with the darkness of sleep evading my mind – I banged through my bedroom to fetch my slippers. I slid my bare feet into the soft, warmth; I grabbed my thick white hotel robe off the hook in the closet. I wrapped up and I stepped outside.

Into the dark.

My eyes went up, first. Funny; stepping out into the dark, my first instinct was to look up. I did, and I quickly found the Big Dipper, or maybe it was the little one – honestly, I have no clue as to how to tell the difference. It seems that perhaps that was something I used to know, but tonight, not so much. I stared at the stars, bright and clear. I heard the silence – that is, the lack of movement. The stillness, really; the shapes of the treetops and the outline of the shed, and the host of heaven in the stars above.

It was still and smooth, this quiet. I stood still on the deck – not willing to walk out into the dark in my robe and slippers at 1AM, but observing from a safe spot on the deck – and I looked up, again. I thought of those stars, and how they appear on the other side of the world, the same stars hanging over Beirut and Paris and Syria as time spins them to the opposite side of daylight. For a moment, some sort of infinity slipped into my soul but I could not grasp it, that the stars are the same over there, where there is such fear and carnage and death and loss. For one moment, there in the dark, it was so close to me; the grief of a mother who has lost her son, the wailing of a husband whose wife is gone, the empty space where a family once lived. In the veiled shadows there was a certainty, a familiarity that evades my consciousness in the busy bustling that fills the daylight. We are all connected.

Today in church we opened the services with a reminder that we are to love our enemies. We quoted Jesus, who said ‘love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’. I stood in front of our gathering and said we have to remember this – that there is another way. We have to remember to pray.

And so we did. Sincerely.

But later, I read the comments of a friend on social media, who wrote this brutal movement is not going away….they are more than willing to sacrifice their lives in order to kill as many innocent men, women and children, and finally, there in the dark, under the same stars that hang over everyone, all over the world, fear whispers. And I sense that everything is changing.

I am naive, I know. I am eternally optimistic and perhaps I keep my head in the sand too often. I believe the best – to the point of irrationality. There is truth, I am sure, to the value of innocence and empathy. The call to pray for our enemies has lasting value. It matters.

But in the dark, some things become more evident.

I stood on the deck for a while, listening to the stillness, until I recognized that all was not as it seemed. Far off in the distance, dogs barked incessantly. Others joined, creating a circle of sound whose source point I could not establish. It was faint, background white noise.

There were cracks and creaks in the woods. I heard the leaves rustling, the sound of an animal moving through the night.

Sounds and movements that I could not see; they were happening underneath the star-filled sky, and where I had stood for long moments thinking existentially about the vastness of the universe and the stars that shone on everyone, suddenly I heard things right in front of me that I could not see, and I was uneasy.

The darkness is, I think, worth exploring. But it is not altogether safe, not without the confidence that what I cannot see, but only hear and sense, will do no harm.

Tonight, I do not have that confidence.

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