The water sprinklers turned on just as I sat down on the bench near my patio. It was already very late at night. The sound of water spraying the ground was itself a relief from the oppressive Texas heat. The summer was unbearable that year. Temperatures did not go lower than 95 degrees during the night, and the humidity was so high that the air felt heavy and muggy throughout the season.
I stood under the sprinklers for a few seconds, just to soak in the moisture so I could endure the time I was outside. The mist of the water felt cooling and I began to clear away my daughters’ doll stroller and wagon. I had no intentions of tripping over them in the morning.
It was almost a comfort to be standing under the dark Texas sky away from the merciless sun that beat down from morning until sundown. Yard work and fiddling around with small tasks outside was a good distraction for the moment. When the water sprinklers stopped I sat back down on my uncomfortable wooden bench.
My children were peacefully asleep inside. None of them had any idea how their lives had changed. How were they going to handle this? Ten hours earlier I found out that my married life was over. Since that moment, I felt like death swallowed me alive. I was ready to escape the confines of my house and find refuge in my yard so I could see the sky. It has always been a comforting thing to do.
Gazing at the stars took my mind off my bleak future for a while. There is a lot of imagination to be had when looking up rather than down. I looked for the brightest star in the night sky, something I’ve done for many years. A person can even see color if he looks at them long enough. I found one right next to the moon. And it was a full moon too. Sigh… At least the moon’s light is only a reflection, so it is a lot softer than the full blaze of the summer sun. Its light reminds me of candle light. Soft and steady, it brings gentleness into the darkness. I needed a dose of that kind of light at the moment.
The night has different sounds, too. Here in Texas we have chirping crickets and locusts. It’s a symphony with the nightingale singing along and the mosquito making its buzzing interruption. It’s a different world sitting out under the stars. There is something comforting about the night; something that brings us to a place of rest. We always know that the morning will come; no matter what.
There are still times when I am afraid of the night. There are shadows and creepy noises. Then there are those moments where we are seized with such a purpose that we fear nothing. I remember as a 6-year-old in Bavaria, I wanted to see Kristkindl at night during the Christmas season. When I woke in the night my room was very dark. Normally I would feel afraid, but not that night. I felt my way to the closet to put on my shoes. I opened the door to our patio and stood outside in my nightgown under a starry night and waited. It was freezing cold but I intensely looked up just to see if I could catch a glimpse of Kristkindl. I really wasn’t sure what I was looking for. I just knew it must be a young Angel-girl with wings flying through the sky to bring the Christmas gifts to all the little children. I probably would have stayed out there all night if I hadn’t started getting very cold. Shivering and a little disappointed I made my way back to bed. One thing I remember was seeing many bright stars.
As a 9-year-old in Germany, one of my best friends was a boy named Peter. He and I had great talks together looking into the heavens at night. He was my fourth-grade teacher’s oldest son, and played the trumpet in our band. He was about three years older than me. I played the clarinet and that’s how we became friends. After band practice, which we held upstairs in the old corner guesthouse, we took the long way home through the village and up to the hill where I lived. During the fall and winter months, it was already dark outside by the time practice was over. Halfway up the hill to my home we would stop at Frau Jahna’s garden wall, sit down and look up. I remember there was always a chill in the air, but we were not at all fazed by it. He was the one who told me that the light we see twinkling in the night sky could be from a star that is already extinguished, and the light that comes from earth and travels to a star may be the light of Roman times, depending from what time the light was from.
Ah, it was all so fascinating. Once I jokingly tried to convince him that there really was a face in the moon by pointing the facial features out to him, but I couldn’t convince him. And so we headed home, bidding each other good-bye and going our separate ways once we reached my house. Each time we walked home we continued to wonder about what was happening up there in the sky. Those were my first experiences with someone else where we explored thoughts together and still remained in wonderment of never quite knowing. It kept my interest open to hear more.
The night can reveal more good things. As teenagers, my brother had a room next to mine down in the basement. We were the oldest and had our own rooms. One night he came to my room while I had Uriah Heep playing on the record player. It was already very late and I was kind of daydreaming on my bed. The only light in the room was from a single burning candle. He sat down on my bed and we started talking about music. Of course our conversation also included our current crushes and school. Everything was discussed in depth. A few awkward moments were smoothed out with a fleeing smile.
That night we dropped our masks. I no longer saw my "dorky" brother but saw a caring and witty person sitting in front of me. We listened to each other and took note of what was said. We didn’t have to pretend anymore. It took the weight off our shoulders that helped us through our lives and strengthened our relationship. That night we became inseparable. We still call each other almost every week to talk and laugh. We can accept each other unconditionally, because we freely give back to each other without manipulation. That night he was there for me, talking to me for several hours on the phone. He wouldn’t hang up until he knew I was going to be all right.
Back under the Texas sky, a breeze rustled through the big oak tree. Ah, it felt good. There are no words to describe the deliverance from agony when a gust of wind whisks through the stifling air. I sat in silence gazing up into the heavens again. Is my fate determined by the stars, or is the place I find myself to be an Advent that will usher in a new life? Has there ever been complete darkness on earth? There’s has always been a flicker of light somewhere within our darkest moments that we want to grasp and hold on to. And sometimes it’s the only thing we have left — a flicker. And I found myself to be at that place.
Something died that night. It was only the rhythmic pounding of my heartbeat within my chest that kept me alive. It let me know that there’s still life in there. Its beat was a muffled but desperate pounding in my ears. Wasn’t there a life that gives light to everyone? "The light shines through the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it" (John 1:5). Wasn’t there a story that said "…don’t be afraid, I bring you good news of great joy for everyone…" (Luke 2:10)?
My children came to my mind. They relied on my sanity. They needed a mother whose head is together, but I also knew it would take time. I thought of Mary who heard the stories the shepherds told to everyone — The Good News — and how she quietly treasured these things in her heart and thought about them often (Luke 2:19). Can I find my strength there? Is that where I can find something to hold onto, and so our lives can move forward? Didn’t my mother and grandmother light the four candles on the Advent wreath every Sunday before Christmas exactly for that reason?
Stories actually take on a meaning when we realize we are in the story. Before that they can just be words; pointless words quoted out of a book. But when the stories in the book become real in the lives of people, we’re in the Word. And on that humid night in Texas, I found my hold in the Word. It was an early Christmas present that wasn’t wrapped in a box with a pretty bow. It looked more like broken parts lying before me as I sat in my yard under the tree. These were tender parts in swaddling clothes that will grow, be cuddled and are scented like the smell of a newborn babe. There’s sweetness in life, too, even when it’s dark and broken. Does not the sweet smell of the honeysuckle linger during the night? Does not the seed sprout once it fell to the ground? It’s that kind of life which conquers the bitterest death. It’s the kind of life that flickers in the dark night of the soul.
The drumbeat I heard in my ears settled down to a calmer rhythm. The fear of the night was conquered with a purpose. I could not see any angels in the heavens, or a star guiding the way. There were no shepherds announcing the news of the Savior being born. But I heard the call, like trumpets sounding in my heart. I got up from my bench and headed for the back door. I took one last look at the stars and there I determined that I would follow the Shepherd’s call. I opened the door and entered a new life.
Sabine Barnhart [send her mail] moved to the US in 1980 and lives in Fort Worth, TX with her three children. For the past 15 years she has been working for an international service company.