December 24 Prompt – Everything’s OK
What was the best moment that could serve as proof that everything is going to be alright? And how will you incorporate that discovery into the year ahead? (Author: Kate Inglis)
“It was dark in the wood and things moved all around them,” goes a line from one of my favorite children’s books about 3 owls who wake up to find their mama gone. But anyone who has spent any time in the woods at night knows that this is an apt description. So on that night, in the woods in Virginia, it was dark and things moved…
We had known about the bears that roam throughout Shenandoah National Park. Had brought the necessary gear to hang our food on the trees well away from our tents – at least ten feet above ground and 3-4 feet out from the tree trunk. Our campsite that night was in a pine grove with soft needles and a wonderfully flat space. We were nestled under a tree that lay rooted about three feet from our tent. We had cooked and eaten away from our tent, and were well away from the stream from which we had pumped drinking water. J and I had shared a quiet meal, cleaned up and climbed in the tent to rest our weary muscles and bones.
And so it was well into the night – perhaps around midnight, when this friendly beast decided to make his path through the woods and past our tent and into our camp. J was awoken and heard him coming, silently wishing that the rustling he heard would continue to stay far off. It was a solo animal, with large, lumbering steps. I woke when he (she?) was about ten feet away and headed toward us. J silenced me with a hand over my mouth. We lay in silence and fear, waiting.
The bear continued toward our tent and stopped, between our tent and the nearby tree. We heard him sniff. We wondered if he could smell us – the faint smell of humans who have sweated and labored over trails for 3 days with no shower. We wondered if there was anything we had forgotten to hang in the food bags? Our toothpaste? Smelly chapstick? We wondered what would happen next.
And then… the bear moved on. Towards where we had eaten a few hours earlier, toward our food bags which we found still hanging and untouched in the morning, and right, out, of our camp.
It is beyond my theology to claim that God was protecting us in those moments in the dark. I cannot believe that God would protect me and mine but not others in other instances of terror or suffering. But there was this moment as the rustling footsteps receded into the darkness and the night became quiet again when the breath was released and I knew… everything was going to be alright.
Perhaps that isn’t translatable into the new year, but perhaps it is. The fear we carry in the face of the unknown is expansive. The truth is, we never saw the bear with our own eyes. It could have been a raccoon (although we’re fairly certain it wasn’t.) It could have been anything. J imagined having to throw his body ontop of me to protect me from the bear’s slashing paws, since he was outside the tent on my side. I imagined, fleetingly, my parents at home with my boys, finding out we had been attacked by a bear in the night. Our fantasies went well beyond the quiet reality we experienced.
Our fears had almost no base in reality. Isn’t that so often the case? So, if I am to conquer the fears that pull at me, keep me from doing what I long to do, force me to walk a jagged path instead of the straight line toward my hopes and dreams…perhaps it would be well to remember that moment, in the dark wood, and the quiet, uneventful morning that followed.
This is a picture of the path the bear took, between our tent and the nearby tree…