I’m wrapped in our blue-plaid blanket sitting on our bench. The binding has frayed—that’s what happens to both blankets and love when they’re drug over all matter of terrain. It seems outside, though, is where I need to be, under the endless acres of dark sky, even if it means passing over gravel and rock with only a shard of moon to guide me.
It makes me smile (not to mention my mother laugh) to see the anti-hermit I’ve become. It had always been the nooks of our California ranch that beckoned to me—the closets, the caves I created with beds butted up to either side of tables shoved into corners. It's funny how one cross-country move and a little caroling can change everything.
At first, Virginia didn’t feel like home. How could it when we moved the summer before my freshman year of college? I felt like my old guppy, Vince—who once flopped out of the net while I was cleaning his bowl. With every contraction of gills, he begged to be airlifted back into his safe, finite quarters.
This alien feeling shadowed me back to California for the beginning of my first semester at the small University I had chosen, and it hung out with me, clinging to my ankle like some lovelorn silent film star. By Christmas break, I was ready to go home—even if that meant Virginia.
I expected lingering ambivalence toward this strange (for me) rural setting, but what I wasn’t expecting was Mom’s words leaving the airport: Tomorrow we’ll go shopping (that part I expected), then Friday night we’ll go caroling—by the way—we’ve joined a church.
Joined a church?
On a frigid Friday, a super-sized van, radiating warmth, lured a shivering group of us in one by one. We drove to a white farmhouse—way out over snowy hill and dale.
We stepped out onto an unpaved, slushy driveway, grasping Pastor Thomas’s offered hand, and it struck me that our voices would never be heard out here—the sound would be lost in the vastness of the earth’s atmosphere. I was used to singing in choir halls where the sound traveled in an arc finding the center of emotion—whether that was the heart or the head, I was never sure.
What was the point of this?
We assembled ourselves under Widow Kip’s window. A boy pulled up the sash and waved at us calling behind him, “Ready for your surprise, Nana?”
Ruby, the choir leader, directed us to page four—the widow’s favorite carol.
Oh, Holy Night,
The stars are brightly shining
This is the night of our dear Savior’s birth.
Our voices rose up and over and around and through, filling the sky as if encapsulated in a snow globe.
I only made it through three lines before I was pierced with something I can only describe as utter love. The stars winked at me, glittering on a background of navy blue velvet. The notion of big filled me with peace. The heavens, the Milky Way, my own acre of sky faced me. I didn’t know where one began and another ended, yet the voices found seams and crevices and saturated them with goodwill and good news, and oh, how I wanted to fall on my knees.
It wouldn’t be until church the next Sunday when I would realize the baritone singing behind me was you.
That same winter you took me ice skating on a frozen pond. I had never skated out of doors and again something vast flooded me and my now permeable heart. I remembered thinking: No wonder it’s easier to find God in the country than in the city. In the city you saw what man created, but here you saw what He created.
The greatest comfort I had during the years I was finishing college was that we were both umbrellad under the same expanse. I love the paradox of that thought, of God—so open and encompassing and yet so protective and embracing.
But we’ve made a fine mess of things, haven’t we?—as Hardy would say to Laurel.
There’ll be time to apologize and negotiate and cry and forgive—later.
For now, Eric, this is my long-winded way of asking if you’ll meet me Friday night to go out caroling with the church. Heaven may reign over us both, but I need you under our very own acre of sky.
I Love You,
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