The Pilgrimage of Lights

Those who are wise will shine as bright as the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness will shine like the stars forever.”    Daniel 12:3

 

Ada was five years old when she saw the Milky Way for the first time. She would later remember clearly the feeling of expectation. Sitting on the front step, bare feet in the clay, watching the storm clouds roll over the valley. The cool air was orange as the column of wind and lightning kicked dust against the screen door but it never rained. Three days later it snowed instead, pulling all the dust out of the air and revealing the clearest October sky she would ever recall. A snow so early in the year was downright unusual so it made it easy for Ada to remember. That was the night Daddy woke her up past midnight to see the meteor shower in the snow.

He put two layers of socks on her feet and made her put on a pair of Walter’s old long john’s under her nightgown. They tried to wake him up too but he only turned over and went back to sleep. 

“Teenagers need rest, I reckon.” Daddy shrugged. 

So he turned and took Ada, bundled her up in a cocoon of quilts, and carried her out in his arms to the rocking chair where they sat together in the crisp cold to adjust their eyes to the darkness.

At first her nose stung a little but she pulled up a corner of the quilt and soon her own hot breath allowed her the comfort to see the sky. She had never seen so many stars in her young life and never would again, even into her old age. It was as if Heaven had opened and she could see the glowing incense of the altar scattered across the darkness. Wherever she thought there was emptiness, she had only to look long enough and her eyes would grow to see a deep field of endless embers.

Within minutes, even her great child-like heart could not hold the sacred memory of each meteor that streaked across the sky. She lost count somewhere after fifteen and they all became a never-ending wheel of numinous wonder. 

This delight was only interrupted by the swing of the door and the soft crunching of snow on the front steps as Mama appeared with hot cocoa and settled into her nest on the wicker chair beside them. Ada looked over towards the sweet-smelling cloud that rose from the mug at Daddy’s elbow and caught a glimpse of something flickering against the screen door. 

“Oh!” said Mama. “A luna moth! Look, baby, she came to get a look at home too. Poor thing is trapped in the door.

“A luna moth?” Ada craned her neck over for a better look.

“Yeah, come see!” Mama moved to help Ada pull out of her blanket cocoon and they both crouched by the screen with the moth. It’s silver-green wings and long tails rippled with a soft reflection in the snowy light and it flicked lightly against the screen as Ada reached out. Her hands were about the same size as its pale sails.

“She belongs to the moon.” Whispered Mama -- answering an un-asked question, “Must have seen the lights inside and gotten confused on the way home.”

“She doesn’t live here?” Ada looked up.

“Oh no.” said Mama, gently pulling the screen away from the door. “This isn’t her home. She's only passing through. Here to reflect the moon and show the way when it’s dark out. And this time of year she’s probably here to lay eggs and leave little luna moths before she goes home.”

“But what will they do if she goes home?”

Mama delicately coaxed the moth to grasp her fingers as she pulled it out from behind the screen and lifted it up to the shimmering darkness.

“They will shine in the night just like her and just like the moon. And they will find their way back home after they leave little lights of their own. They might be born here but all luna moths know how to follow the light. They know home when they see it -- when they feel it calling. Nothing that shines can ever be lost in the dark.”

The moth sailed upwards, rowing its wings against the fog of frozen breath and into the clear night. Meteors continued their trek over the long path of lights and Ada now looked to the moon as she re-settled into the blankets on Daddy’s lap. She wondered what it must be like to live with the moon and the stars in the heavens. She wondered if all the stars were luna moths on the way home. She sighed a warm puff of smoke into the air just before she felt strong arms carry her back to bed and she nodded off to sleep.

 

Tara Lancaster is a middle school Art teacher and printmaker/illustrator in Winston-Salem, NC. She creates things that she believes ought to exist and she’ll try to trick you into doing the same. When she’s not befriending wild monsters, she’s planting things. And when she’s not planting things, it’s probably Winter.