Tracy was my best friend in elementary school, and, though her motives remain unclear, I suspect she chose me as a friend because she was kind, compassionate, and knew I needed her.
And because she lived across the street so I was hard to avoid.
Not that she ever made me feel like she was avoiding me. On the contrary, she always made me feel welcome and wanted and loved.
And she cleaned my room for me a lot.
And she let me eat all the ramen noodles while she drank the broth.
And she didn’t blame me when our hamster, Fluffy, for whom we shared joint custody after combining our allowances to purchase him, died from choking on a piece of his plastic cage while in my care.
Best friends forever, man.
But Tracy was popular, and I was not. She had that uncanny and apparently inborn ability to know what to wear, how to entice people to pick her for teams, and how to make dozens of friends, so I regularly watched her on the playground and wondered what I had to give to our friendship.
During overnights, Tracy became terribly homesick, and so we usually slept in the living room where we could see her house out the picture window, kitty corner from mine. And then we’d hold hands while we fell asleep.
This weekend, our cousin, a 1st grader like my twin boys, stayed over. He’s tried to stay at our house before, sometimes even successfully, but he never likes it here after dark, when the chaos is finally tamped down to a quiet smolder and all the distractions are gone, so he usually asks to go back home, a few houses down the street.
This weekend, though, his parents were away so home wasn’t an option and he was stuck with us. And he did GREAT sleeping in the big puppy pile with the other 1st graders on the floor of our bedroom with their stuffed pets and pillows and blankets and elbows and knees crammed in each other’s faces.
He did GREAT, except for 3:00-5:00am when he woke up and it was dark except for the dim glow of the bathroom light which, let’s be honest, is never enough. He didn’t fuss or cry or moan or whine, though. He just said, in a small, snuffly voice, “Is it morning yet?”
And I said, “No. I’m sorry. It’s the middle of the night.”
And he said, “Oh,” but like it broke his heart that he hadn’t made it through the dark yet.
So I said, “Want to come up here beside me?”
And he said, “Yes.”
And I said, “OK.”
So he crawled up into my bed and laid his head on the pillow beside mine, and I said, “Do you want to hold hands?”
And he whispered a barely audible “yeah” while his cousins snored on the ground.
We spent the next two hours snuggled up in the dark, holding hands and waiting. Eventually, he fell asleep and so did I, and the sun rose sometime after we stopped watching.
I didn’t expect easy nights with this kid. Just like I don’t expect easy nights with mine. Nights are too tempting to bad dreams and wet beds and bloody noses and getting sick. Besides, nights are too full of the dark to be easy for any of us.
But I didn’t expect the blessings of hard nights, either. The blessing of having someone there so you can ask if it’s morning yet. The blessing of earning trust by offering a hand. The blessing of keeping the vigil for the morning together. The blessing of knowing the light is coming, even though we always seem to fall asleep on our watch.
As much as we all want easy nights – to never have to be awake to fight the dark or ourselves – we don’t get to have as many as we’d like. And so my greatest wish for us is that we’d find a hand to hold in our darknesses. To know the Light is coming. And that we’re not alone while we wait.