Here is a story that happened to my late grandmother — more than 90 years ago — in the hills of Tennessee. She was a young woman at the time and after it happened, she refused to speak of it for fear that she would be ridiculed. She only shared it later in life, and even then, with some coaxing. She was not one to embellish or tell tall tales. And yes, I do believe her story to be true.
My grandmother and aunt set out on foot for Sunday evening services at the Church of Christ. The air was filled with the fragrance of honeysuckle and the warble of birds, the sun setting in oranges and reds as they maneuvered the dips and rises of the hills and hollers of the Tennessee backwoods.
After church services were over and everyone left, they started the long walk home. Except on this particular night, in the country with no electricity or lights of any kind, they were enveloped in pitch black. No moonlight or stars shone to help them find their way. My grandmother recalled she couldn’t see her hand in front of her face.
They clutched each other for support, pausing and starting, and berating themselves for not bringing a lantern or asking one of their fellow churchgoers to walk them home. The truth was, they were afraid. They knew one misstep could plummet them over the crest of a hill and to their deaths.
But they kept walking. And as they did, something happened. Something that still amazes me.
From nowhere, a light appeared above them, falling in a circle on the ground around them. They were too terrified to speak. They took a few tentative steps and the light went with them. They stopped; the light stopped. When they walked, the light walked with them.
They were guided to the front door of their house where the light mysteriously vanished. They rushed inside, slammed the door and locked it. They stood in silence for a few seconds, trembling.
“Did you see what I saw?” my grandmother finally asked my aunt.
“Yes I did and you are never to speak a word of it, do you hear me?”
It was only when my grandmother was well into her 80s that she felt comfortable enough to tell this story.
What was it? Some have joked it was a UFO. But I like to think that it was something more Divinely ordained, a visible sign that we are always guided and protected, that there is some greater, mysterious force at work in the Universe. That had the light not been there that night and my grandmother died, my mother wouldn’t be here, nor I, nor many in our family.
Is that why it happened? I don’t know. But in the telling of this story I am reminded we live in a world of mystery. Everything is mystery when you get down to it. Perhaps we just don’t have the eyes to see it. Yet.
Sue Monk Kidd in The Secret Life of Bees says it well:
“I realized it for the first time in my life: There is nothing but mystery in the world, how it hides behind the fabric of our poor, browbeat days, shining brightly, and we don’t even know it.”
Sometimes that mystery can be found in the ordinary. A conversation with a friend that lifts us. A work of art, a book, a film that brailles itself on our soul. How our bodies breathe themselves, our hearts pump blood, how we are walking miracles who can think, feel, create, love, forgive.
And sometimes, the mystery chooses to flaunt itself in ways we can’t explain. For whatever reasons, my grandmother and aunt were able to see that extraordinary mystery “shining brightly” that dark Tennessee night. It was grace. And yes, it was amazing. Leading them home.