In the Warmth of Winter
It was cold and clear the night we walked down the rural Kentucky road. We had parked the cars in the gravel driveway of one home, and after squeezing thirteen teenage and four adult bodies into the small, enclosed porch and singing three familiar carols, we were walking toward another home nearby.
The stars were all over the sky, but the moon must have headed south for the winter. The faint light emanating from the stars wasn’t enough to illuminate the road ahead, so we groped along by memory and by the sound of our shoes striking the recently laid macadam.
The young people weren’t as cautious as we adults were, and I worried that one or two of the more rambunctious youths would twist an ankle running off and on the road or would dart into an unseen barbed wire fence and tear a new winter coat or, what’s worse, some tender adolescent skin.
I also kept my ear attuned to the sounds around us in the hope that the shrill bark of a farm dog would not pierce through the sounds of the incessant giggling and periodic shouts of trumped-up, young, male bravado. After riding my bike over country roads and being chased seemingly for miles by huge, farm mongrels, I had developed not only respect for but a dreadful fear of those dogs.
Walking behind the teenage voices, which served as a directional guide, I ventured a prolonged gaze at the moonless, December sky. It was kaleidoscopic. As I turned my head, the black and white patterns seemed to change. I was taken back in time to the warm summer nights when, as a teenager myself, I worked as a church camp lifeguard and recreation director.
After all the campers and counselors had gone to their cabins and were asleep, I would leave my trailer, walk up a treeless hill next to the camp custodian’s house, lie back in his chaise lounge and stare into the heavens. The winter sky was as magnificent as I remember that summer sky to be.
A number of years had passed since that camp experience, and I wondered why I had never really taken the time to explore and study the astronomical sights above me. How little I knew of God’s universe.
The porch light directly ahead signaled the next stop on our winter’s pilgrimage. As we all gathered at the side door of that small, old farmhouse and began to sing, “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” an elderly couple came to the door and stepped coatless into the cold night.
I wiggled my now numb toes trying to get some circulation going, pulled back the top of each glove and blew my moist, warm breath over the palms of my hands down to the freezing fingertips. The old couple wasn’t even shivering. He put his arm around her delicate but stooped shoulders and she snuggled against his once strong but now aged chest. Their eyes were rimmed with water and as a tear fell upon her cheek, I wondered if it would feel cold on her face as the night air blew against it.
We stood there no more than a few minutes. When the songs were over, the carolers waved, shouted “Merry Christmas” and, now that they were more familiar with the contour of the land, began to run back to the cars. I walked up to the couple and, in silence, shook his large and still calloused hand and then leaned over and pressed my lips to her soft, tear-moistened cheek.
As I walked back to the cars with the other chaperones, I felt very good and very warm.