After the youngest children were tucked in, we could hear Mother softly cooing a lullaby. Through her long repertoire of hymns to the accompaniment of hooting owls and mountain crickets...or whatever it was that made all that racket...Dad would climb up onto the picnic table with my sister and I and point out stars and constellations.
I well remember one night when I was still in middle school and not at all happy that I had left behind a slumber party and the promise of staying up all night watching old movies and eating caramel corn...all for sitting on a splintery table with my dad and my younger sister. Life seemed so unfair at the time and being the "oldest of eight" a cruel and unusual punishment. I asked him why we couldn't just look at the stars in our backyard from the comfortable aluminum lawn chairs with the green and white plastic webbing. I reminded him that if we were at home he could be holding a fresh cup of Sanka and listening to Frank Sinatra while he looked at the stars. What I didn't say was that if we were there I wouldn't have to keep him company while he did it.
He smiled and began to tell me that in the city there were so many lights from the street lamps and stores that you could hardly see the stars. But that in the mountains where there was almost no artificial light, the night sky was so dark that you could easily see each star, constellation, planet, and even the Milky Way if you knew what you were looking for. So the three of us lay back on that graying picnic table and listened to my mom singing, and I wondered if he was right and why it was even important.
I didn't wonder for long.
My dad passed on just after my senior year of high school. And almost forty years later I can still remember, like it was yesterday, that night of star gazing and quietly calling out the names of constellations and planets to each other. Late at night when I am sitting on the porch of my cabin at camp high in the Rocky Mountains, and I can see stars so clearly in the night sky, I can almost hear my mother's voice singing hymns. If campers were to wake up and look out onto the lawn, they might often find me in my jammies lying on my back on top of the picnic table near the bell tower picking out Orion, the Big Dipper, or Cassiopeia singing softly to myself "Hush now..whisper who dares" or "...I will listen for Thy voice..." Dad's lesson of the stars really hit home for me when my days have sometimes felt very steeped in darkness.
I am learning that sometimes it is in our darkest hours that the light of kindness shines through so resplendently that we are changed forever. In the bas relief of that darkness, luminaries of charity and compassion are delineated upon our hearts forever into new constellations of loveliness and grace.
Mary Baker Eddy, in her small volume Miscellaneous Writings has this to say about stars and human greatness:
"The lives of great men and women
are miracles of patience and perseverance.
Every luminary in the constellation of human greatness,
like the stars, comes out in the darkness
to shine with the reflected light of God. "
I have known times of darkness...and of light. It has been in the context of the deepest darkness however that I am learning what most matters in life and what makes the biggest difference in the lives of the broken-hearted, the misunderstood, those longing for forgiveness, or those praying for peace.
I have learned the value of kindness...the way it can illumine the vast emptiness void of compassion, warm the chilled air of disdain, soften the steely hardness of hate... and the power kindness has to energize our hopes and restore our faith in humanity... is fathomless.
Each moment of life-transforming grace I experienced in the past year was extended by the humble hand of kindness. Small kindnesses are often lost sight of when we are navigating day to day in a vast sea of admiration, respect, and acceptance. But when our motives become scrutinized, our character assassinated by insinuation and our decisions weighed in the balance of assumption and opinion...and found wanting by those whose presume they have the right to dissect the decisions and choices of others with the tiny sharp knives of self certainty...small kindnesses act as beacons of light in a roiling sea of despair, loneliness, and remorse…and can be life-saving.
One evening, when my heart was so laid low by misunderstanding, it was the embrace offered by one courageous school administrator at a public gathering that lifted my eyes and my posture. It restored my hope not only in the spiritual tenets to which we were united in adherence to (and that he and his wife were so clearly living), but in the confidence I had that my life, lived with spiritual integrity, would speak louder and more convincingly to the community of faith we shared than anything I could say.
Another morning as I sat waiting with trepidation for a young woman I had known and loved since her childhood to arrive at my office, I was almost faint with apprehension. I knew that I needed to share with her some very sensitive news about my life. News that, for me was sad, but which also included the promise of great future joy for me and my family. I knew this news could be disturbing to her and might weaken the strong ties of love and faith we shared. Once she arrived I gently unfolded my story and she unquestioningly threw her arms and her acceptance around me almost drowning me in her love, respect, and care. Her "Oh Kate I just love you and want you to be happy, feel love and be at peace" still rings in my heart today and continued to resonate as a clear beacon of kindness through some of the long days of sadness I faced.
On another particularly difficult late Spring afternoon I was reeling from the seismic effects of unfounded gossip when a dear friend arrived on my doorstep with a bouquet of spring flowers in hand and a card with a sweet message of support. This friend had driven in rush-hour traffic to reach me in time to stem the imposed tide of self-doubt and regret that threatened to pull me under its tow. She restored in me a "rest in the truth" that brought deep peace. I felt a renewed confidence in the unflagging certainty I have long known that to live with spiritual integrity is more important than popularity or praise. Her kindness had done more to shore up my faith in God's ability to cut through the swirling debris of rumors and speculation with simple truth... than any of the intellectual wrestling or mental arguing I had been engaged in all day long.
These small instances of kindness, extended in the midst of darkness, have often been enough to illuminate my path out of the confusing labyrinth of sorrow, uncertainty and self-doubt. Although these moments of light have been rare, there have been enough of them to lead me back home to where I could rest with my hand in God's and be at peace with where He has taken me on this journey.
This Christmas as my family and I quietly celebrate the joy of being together, of sharing our love with an ever widening circle of moms, dads, sisters, brothers, cousins, grandmothers, and friends, I am humbled by the lessons of grace I have been shown by a loving God through your small acts of kindness. You may not know who you are but you have made a difference in the way I look at my life and the things that matter most. You are luminaries of human greatness through your small acts of kindness, compassion and charity.
Tonight as I post this piece, I consider the simple crystal star that sits on top of our small Noble fir scattered with tiny white lights and the six ornaments carefully placed by our children, and I think of the light that each of you has shed on my darkness. Through my tears the lights on that simple Christmas tree become a constellation of stars brightening the corner of our home and my heart, and I remember the way stars could fascinate a simple man and cause him to love the darkness for what it showed him of the light. I am grateful for his patience with my 13 year old self as we watched stars shoot through the night sky from our perch atop a weathered picnic table with our hands behind our heads and our eyes trained towards a vast blanket of midnight velvet scattered with diamonds. I continue to appreciate darkness for what it can teach me about light and what is truly important.
I know what happens when stars of kindness find us in our darkness. And I will never forget that far more precious than the gifts we receive (or give) of admiration...wealth, beauty, accomplishment, fame.....is kindness.
("Christmas tree" nebula - a cluster of infant stars )
"If it wasn't for the night
So cold this time of year,
The stars would never shine so bright,
So beautiful and clear;
Even then somehow in the bitter wind and cold,
Impossibly strong I know,
Even then a bloom as tender as a rose,
Is breaking through the snow
In the dark night of my soul,
In the dark night of my soul. "
- David Wilcox
K & J