Even by the standards of an early-morning person like me, 8:30 p.m. isn’t really late. But in the short days of late November, when you’ve just staggered off of an airplane at the end of a day that started 20 hours earlier on a different continent, 8:30 p.m. can feel like the deep, dark middle of a very long night.
But the plane landed promptly, my friends were at the airport to pick me up, and when we turned from the dark street into the dark driveway of what I expected to be our dark house—there was light. My daughter had stopped by to turn up the thermostat, and she had left the porch light on for me. Plus the light inside the entryway, plus a lamp shining warmly through the front window.
The impact of this simple gesture went far beyond the practical kindness of making it easier to lug my bag up the steps and unlock the door. The light allowed me to walk into a warm, bright haven instead of a cold, dark house. It made me feel safe and welcomed me home.
And I was reminded of one of the stories my father told. The winter that I was a baby and my older sister turned three was harsh. One blizzard after another howled across the South Dakota prairies, sometimes leaving farm families like ours snowed in for days or even weeks at a time. Shortly before Christmas, a neighbor called to say that the gravel road past his farm had been plowed, so he could make a trip to town before the next storm. My father rode horseback through perhaps three miles of drifted snow to get to the neighbor’s house and go along.
It was dark, of course, by the time they got back from town. My father saddled his horse, tied on two gunny sacks filled with groceries, mail, and Christmas gifts, and headed home. Many years later, telling the story, he remembered coming over the crest of a long hill. Far across the frozen prairie, where home was, he could see a tiny light. “It was a lonely feeling,” he said, “like I was the only person in the world.”
But even though he still had a long way to go in the cold and solitary darkness, he could see where home and wife and children were waiting for him. They were where the light was.
It’s a simple thing, really, to make such a difference. Leaving the lights on for each other.