Lizzie was most content when she was outside, away from the cacophony of sounds heard in the hustle and bustle of the city. It was not a bother if others came along yet only if they did not drown out the sounds of nature with all their usual chatter. ‘Nature has a voice,’ she’d say to those who came with her. After work, when asked to go out for dinner and a bit of fun, Lizzie often remarked, ‘I can’t see the stars when in the city.’ Many times, instead of joining her friends, she’d put the top down in her yellow Fiat and drive out from the city for a little night music, of the natural kind.
When she was a little girl, Lizzie often woke crying and shaking during the night, caught up in nightmares of being chased by some dark monster. In the wee hours before sunrise, her mother often found Lizzie cowering under a blanket or under the bed, her sheets and pajamas soaked through with sweat from night terrors. At daybreak, Lizzie’s mom could usually find her outside, up in the crook of the old oak tree that sat in the backyard. It took a lot of coaxing to get her back down on the ground and into the house for breakfast and on to school.
It took more than coaxing to get Lizzie to join the family on any outing that occurred in the evening. Fear set in as soon as the black curtain of night fell. Her mother, though often at her wits end from the squabbles amongst her four young daughters, somehow managed to show a bit more patience in dealing with Lizzie at night. The night terrors had begun 6 years earlier, after the tragic death of her husband, Carl, father to the girls. While trimming the high-up limbs of a large oak in town, Carl’s safety line had broken. His death had been hard on everyone. Lizzie’s mom often talked with her sister about Lizzie, trying to make some sense of Lizzie’s passion to be in trees, ‘just like her father,’ yet wondering what made her so afraid of the dark. ‘Why isn’t she also afraid of those trees?’
Most of the outings at night involved going to church. Her mom had to literally pull Lizzie out from under the bed and into the back seat of the car then sit her between two of her sisters. Leaving on the inside light of the car helped to ease Lizzie’s terror though not her fear. It was on the occasion of a revival that this inexplicable fear of Lizzie’s was dissipated. The church parking lot was well lit so Lizzie scrambled over her sister and out of the car, running quickly towards the brighter lights inside. Her mom got the girls settled in their usual back pew then pulled out crayons and sheets of biblical scenes that waited to be colored. All of the girls loved to color. Knowing that Lizzie enjoyed outdoor scenes with animals and trees, her mom handed her one that depicted the countryside around Bethlehem. The revival service began as usual with hymns and, for this, the girls joined in. They started coloring when the visiting minister began his sermon.
Lizzie was intent with her coloring of the tree in the picture when certain words in the sermon began to filter into her awareness. While adding a few more branches to make the tree more magnificent, she became stilled on hearing these words: ‘You do not have to be afraid of the dark. God will take care of you.’ It was as if time was standing still, for throughout the rest of the service, Lizzie felt as if she were in a dream.
It was her mom’s habit to get the car started and the car light on before Lizzie bounded from the church itself. Though a bit surprised that night when Lizzie walked out with her sisters, her mom was more distracted by two daughters squabbling over which one got to sit by the window. When the family arrived back home, Lizzie immediately ran into the well-lit house. Her mom then got busy refereeing between two girls regarding whose turn it was to prepare night-time snacks. That got done so her mom called the other girls to the table; everyone but Lizzie showed up. Figuring she was drawing or coloring somewhere, ‘Off in her own world,’ her mom often remarked to others, she got up to look for her. Lizzie, however, was nowhere to be found; not even under her bed. They searched the entire house. Just as her mom was about to make a desperate call for help, Lizzie burst into the house through the back door. ‘He’s right!’ she yelled, jumping up and down in her excitement. ‘I went outside in the dark and wasn’t afraid anymore!’
Here is what happened that dark night, outside in the back yard. Still in a dream-like trance, Lizzie went out the back door, walked to her oak tree, kicked off her patent-leather church going shoes and climbed to the crook that held her just-so. Standing in the crook, a thought came, You can go higher; she did not hesitate. Lizzie climbed to the highest crook and, though swaying a bit, felt safer than she had ever been. She heard so many new sounds; felt so deeply soothed by these sounds, ones that she later learned came from insects, frogs, and night birds.
When Lizzie came back into the house, jumping up and down in excitement, her little dress was torn and she was barefoot. Though still somewhat frantic, her mom hugged her fiercely, knowing that something miraculous had occurred. Lizzie grabbed her mom’s hand, pulled her outside near the oak then pointed up to the sky and said, "My daddy talked to me; he’s in heaven!" A catch in her heart, Lizzie’s mom asked, "What did he say, honey?" “Daddy told me that God made him into that bright star in the sky; see it? Daddy’s looking out for me so I don’t have to be scared anymore!” said Lizzie, jumping excitedly, still pointing at the sky. "Oh honey," said her mom, hugging Lizzie tightly, "I know."
I was 10 years old at the time and, after that night, my fear of the dark disappeared; I've not had another nightmare.