January 7, 2005 - "Midnight on New Year's Eve" by Pat H. Johnson
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"There are three principles to apply to your life when beginning a new year. First: Determine that with God's help and guidance you are going to make it a wonderful year. Second: Decide that with God's help and presence you are going to live thrillingly and Third: Since the new year will not be any newer than you are, make up your mind that you are going to be new!" ~Dr. Norman Vincent Peale
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Sometimes, when we feel truly alone, God sends a little nudge to let us know that we are never alone, that He is always with us. We just have to be still and listen.
"Midnight on New Year's Eve"
by Pat H. Johnson
New Year's Eve. A time of celebration. A time of renewal. A chance to start over. We surround ourselves with family and friends. We muster all the good cheer we can manage. We promise ourselves we'll change for the better in the coming year. Sometimes we end up changing in ways we never dreamed.
I'd planned my New Year's Eve in 1981 as I always did: to be among people, the more the merrier. Ever since I was a teenager in the postwar '40s I'd worried about being alone on New Year's Eve?or any big "date night." Back then, Saturday was "date night," and if I had no plans come Saturday, I became the world's loneliest teenager, hating the thought of being stuck by myself when everyone else in the world was out having a ball. I did everything I could to fill up my calendar on date night, particularly New Year's Eve, the biggest date night of all. It was a habit I carried faithfully into adulthood. Especially after my divorce eight years before, I grew even more aware of empty evenings alone.
This New Year's Eve I'd planned to a T: dinner with friends followed by a party across town, then an 11:30 Mass I'd made reservations to attend at the Cenacle, a retreat house 10 miles from my home, after which I'd spend the night with some friends who lived close by, so I wouldn't be on the road too late. I had it all worked out, every last detail. It would be a full, happy evening, with little chance to feel lonely or unpopular.
All went according to plan. Dinner was lovely, and I was having such a splendid time at the party that I lingered till the last possible minute before striking off for the retreat house, shouts of "Happy New Year!" ringing in my ears. The digital clock on the instrument panel of my car told me I'd just enough time to make it to Mass punctually without getting a speeding ticket.
I noticed something else too. The needle on the temperature gauge had passed the halfway mark and was edging toward "Hot." A week earlier the car had been in for repairs; I'd thought the problem had been corrected. But this was the first time I'd driven any distance since the shop had replaced the thermostat.
"Engine trouble is all I need," I muttered, easing up on the accelerator.
With one wary eye on the temperature gauge, I drove the last few miles along U.S. 1 at a crawl, hoping the engine wouldn't conk out and leave me stranded. I'll never get there on time, I fretted.
At last I wheeled the car into the one remaining space in the crowded parking lot, shut off the engine and jumped out, slamming the door behind me. I dashed to the main entrance of the retreat house and breathlessly rang the bell.
I rang again. Still no answer. Strange. I tried the door. Locked. I peered through the glass and saw that the vestibule was deserted. The heavy carved doors of the chapel inside were closed. I pushed the bell again, this time putting some body English into it and keeping my thumb pressed down till it hurt. I could hear the bell inside ringing shrilly. But still no one came.
This is maddening, I thought. What am I going to do? Doesn't anyone answer once Mass has begun? I tried all the outside doors I could find. Locked. I gave the bell one last, frustrating ring, then stalked back to the car, got in and slammed the door.
It isn't fair, I thought disbelievingly as I stared through the windshield at the Cenacle. I've driven all this way to greet the New Year in God's house, and now, after all my careful planning, I'm stuck out here alone?
This was exactly what I'd striven so hard to avoid.
I slouched in the front seat with my arms resolutely folded high across my chest and glared accusingly at the guilty temperature gauge. The night was ruined. All I could do now was wait until the service was over, then meet up with my friends. I'd have no one to be with when the New Year arrived.
I sat there ruing my fate, feeling sorrier and sorrier for myself. Gradually, though, I became aware of the night outside. There is a special mystery about late night. In southeast Florida, December nights are not necessarily cold. On this particular one the air was crisp and invigoratingly cool. I leaned over and cracked open the window on the passenger side a few inches.
At least it's nice out, I allowed, shifting in the seat to get more comfortable and slipping off my shoes. I took a deep breath, inhaling the sweet night, and felt myself slowly starting to relax.
A fragile mist covered the Cenacle's sprawling lawn, and tall Australian pines swayed serenely in the breeze. How stately they were! And how quiet the night was. It seemed as though a hush lay over everything; only the occasional chirping of crickets intruded. There was no moon, but stars twinkled madly in the black sky.
It's so beautiful, I thought, so peaceful. I gazed into the stars, thousands of them, millions beyond counting, yet each one placed in the firmament by the hand of the Almighty. Everywhere I looked I saw His work. I felt His presence, His peace.
"My God," I breathed out loud, "look what You've given us. You are everywhere: in the breeze, in the dew, in the stars, even in the darkness." Suddenly I knew that I was worshiping God just as surely as if I were in the retreat house chapel. I began to talk to Him. I talked and I talked. "I'm so afraid," I said. 'Why is it I hate to be alone on these special nights? Is it because it makes me fear that I'm left out?" And the more I talked to God about my fear, the less my fear was. I felt myself filled with a sense of peace and security, a feeling that came from knowing with absolute certainty that God was there listening, loving. I was not just alone; I was alone with God.
Lights blinked on in the retreat house dining room, where coffee and cookies were to be served after Mass. Tune had sped by. It was a new year! I made my way back to the main entrance and rang the bell. A smiling sister immediately came to open the door and welcome me. I told her how no one had answered when I rang the bell earlier. She looked puzzled.
"There is always someone to answer the bell whether we're having Mass or not," she explained.
"But I rang and rang?"
"No, my dear," she interrupted, smiling kindly and ushering me in. "I'm sure we would have heard you."
For an instant I was confused. How strange it all was?the overheated car, the unanswered door, the quiet time with Him. But then, as I went to join the others, I knew it wasn't strange at all.
Pat H. Johnson copyright
Pat lives in Florida and can be reached by emailing 2TheHeart!
The Letter Box:
"A Wish for the New Year" was Such a wonderful story of hope, faith and love in the midst of such terrible despair. thaks for sharing Leona
I read the story from Lois' heart. I noticed it was copyrighted in 1995. It is almost 10 years later and my mind wonders how those 5 siblings are doing now. I would love to read a follow-up on them. Tennie Winter
Your story touched my heart ... deeply.
I am adopted, and while there are those shadows and closed rooms in my past, some of which the doors did open before my birth mum died, as I read your story and of your journey, I was touched by the Presence of One who knew your story as it unfolded.
Indeed, He knew the stories of Brian, Karen, Robbie and Kelly-Jo, and how they each and all intertwined.
I believe that you had a hand in changing your family's history. You had a part in how the story went from bad to better to ... good. Not many people really confront their pasts like you did, and the rewards can then be witnessed by others like me, a bloke from another land, even the other side of the world.
Lois, I'd love to hear what then transpired from 1995 to now. I bet there have been more discoveries, more joys and new surprises as you went on.
Yours is a story worth the telling - thank you.
Robert White, Australia
What an astounding account of a difficult yet loving life! God Bless you! Thank you for sharing your thoughts and emotions with us. What a brave thing to do. I pray that your healing and reconnecting with your sibs has given you the peace your heart needed to heal. It sounds like you have a wonderful husband. What a treasure! My very best wishes, RoseMary Salzman
Making a difference, one story at a time!