First Night

First Night

From A 6th Bowl of Chicken Soup for the Soul

First Night

The knock was so soft that I might not have heard it at all if I hadn’t heard the footsteps on my wooden front porch immediately before. I wasn’t asleep yet; I had been told that I might be needed this night, and I was waiting.

I’m one of the camp moms at a summer camp nestled deep in the northern Wisconsin pines. One of the campers who had just arrived this day was having trouble falling asleep. The little boy who stood on my porch said softly as I opened the door, “I’m not homesick, you know. I just can’t seem to fall asleep. My counselor said I should come talk to you.”

He shuffled his feet a little, looking down at them, but made no move to come in as I held the door open.

“I don’t want you to think I’m scared,” he said. “I’m not . . . it’s just that this is . . . different for me.”

“I know,” I said gently as I stepped out onto the porch and closed the door quietly behind me. “Why don’t we just sit out here and talk for a while?”He took the chair I offered and we both sat and looked up at the beautiful, star-filled sky. I caught my breath. Living in the city, I never appreciated the magnificence of a night sky filled with a million twinkling lights. Maybe I was always too busy to notice or the sky was never clear enough, but I didn’t think summer nights back home in Chicago ever looked like this. I shared my thoughts with my young friend.

“My brother got a telescope for his bar mitzvah,” he said. There was the smallest catch in his voice, but I couldn’t see his face in the darkness. “He lets me look through it and he knows the names of all the constellations. That one there is the Big Dipper and that one is the Little Dipper. You can tell by the North Star—Polaris.”

“You know a lot about astronomy,” I said appreciatively.

There was a long pause. “My brother is leaving for Israel for a whole year after I get back from camp. I’m going to miss him . . . a lot.”

Ah, I thought.

Now, when a child—any woman’s child—is in pain, a mother—anybody’s mother—responds. But I thought hard about exactly the right thing to say to this little boy. I didn’t know him. I didn’t know the things to say or do to comfort him as I would with one of my own children. But I clearly saw that he needed comfort. And even though the night was dark, I saw something else. It was very important to him that I not baby him or intimate in any way that his feelings were childish or misplaced. He needed to hear that it was okay to feel as he did; he needed to feel respected. I could not let him think that being homesick his first night at camp was, in any way, abasing. After all, he was nine years old.

So, I asked him questions about his brother—what he was going to do in Israel, whether he would get to visit him there, whether he has any other brothers or sisters, or any pets. He talked a lot—happily.

Finally, he asked me to walk him back to his cabin. I did. But he stopped me at the door. He did not need me to walk him in, even though it was late and all the rest of the campers were asleep.

“I can put myself to sleep,” he said. Then, looking up at the stars once more before he closed the cabin door, he said, “It’s the same sky.”

That was all.

And that was everything.

Marsha Arons

Reprinted by permission of Jonny Hawkins. ©1998 Jonny Hawkins.

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