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Home » Stories, True and Otherwise

When Half Spent Was The Night

Submitted by on September 11, 2009 – 7:31 PM35 Comments
photo by BK Ninja, via Flickr

photo by BK Ninja, via Flickr

Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night and known, without moving the curtain to look outside, that it had started snowing? Maybe you’d had a bad or strange dream, or your child had, or a pet had stepped on your face, or maybe a garbage truck went past or a branch cracked off. Maybe the world wanted to tell you something else.

But sometimes, it only wanted to tell you that: about snow. How? How did you know to stand by for the message? That beautiful sound that is no sound at all — how can we hear it?

Do you lie there in a cave of blankets, lean on the refrigerator door, rest your chin on a spouse’s shoulder, point for the baby to see, stand at the window with your hand held just so for a sill-bound cat to spring up precisely under it — do you say, to the sleeping spouse, to the fussing baby, to the cat, to the pickles in the door, to no one, as you check the closest street lamp for a cone of silence and find it there, teeming and cold, do you say things from hymnals, things only hymnals would understand? “Behold,” or “lo”? Perhaps an “o,” from the time before street lamps.

Do you think that this, this is the year you live in a home with a window seat? Do you look up and down your street to see if it’s just you framed by the long rectangle of bathroom light, or conspiring with a dog to smite the fresh backyard powder with galloping joy? Do you hope it is just you? Or do you hope it isn’t?

Do you know it isn’t?

Do you find yourself humming, editing “Good King Wenceslas” to include thoughts on the morning commute, and some curse words? Do you think about hymnals again as you sing the singing more like breathing into the baby’s web-soft hair — about the sadness in the Christmas songs sometimes, how long they had waited for the rose, e’er blooming, the gift that came almost in secret and that they couldn’t keep? If Gabriel told Mary that part, outside our hearing — that there are nights that never spend themselves all the way. If Gabriel has ever told that part.

If you’re really awake. If you’re really alone. If you could just tell one person about the sound with no sound, the resolution of the minor chord that “dispels with glorious splendor / the darkness everywhere,” the darkness in which you stand right now, watching the cone of silence, feeling safe and perhaps hopeful. Or perhaps remembering the things you forgot to do yesterday.

Happy birthday, Don. Stay warm out there.




  • Hellcat13 says:

    Happy Birthday, Don. Thanks for taking care of our Sars.

  • Bitts says:

    Sars, every year, I wait all day for you to remember for us. Thank you, as always, for putting into words the heaviness of my heart.

    Colleen Supinski 1974-2001
    Eric Thorpe 1966-2001

  • Maria says:

    Happy Birthday, Don. Thank you for being an angel, however literal or figurative.

    Sweet dreams, Sarah. All through the night.

  • Lauren--NY says:

    Gorgeous, as always, Sarah. Thank you.

    Kenneth Kumpel, FDNY 1959-2001

  • Linda says:

    Sleep well, lady. You’ve done well, as always.

  • AngieFM says:

    This piece is so careful, so…accurate, so evocative. Yes, and yes, and yes….

    @Bitts: me, too. And the remembrance of Don at the end of this surprised me, and immediately brought tears to my eyes and tightened my throat. I am still sad, too.

    Happy birthday, Don.

  • F. McGee says:

    That’s it, I’m moving out of Florida to somewhere with seasons.

    Happy birthday, Don. Thanks for taking care of Sars. Sars, I hope you find him.

  • Chris says:

    Every year, Sars. Every year you say it like no one else can.

    Happy birthday, Don.

  • Joe Reid says:

    Happy birthday, Don. I owe you a lot.

  • Katie L. says:

    Oh! So lovely and right.

  • Christina says:

    Simply beautiful

  • Tulip says:

    Damn. You really got that baby in the dark night hush. I love the sound of snow. Thanks again for writing. As always I’m good until the last line. I’m glad you are with us.

  • rayvyn2k says:

    Happy Birthday, Don. Thanks for being with Sars during that awful time. Sars, I hope with all my heart you find him one day.

  • Laura says:

    That was exquisite. Thank you.

  • DuchessKitty says:

    Geezus, that totally made me cry. Thank you Sars. Thank you Don, and happy birthday!

  • Tempest says:

    Happy Birthday, Don. We’re still looking.

    Thanks, Sars. Each year, after working through my own memories and experiences I just wouldn’t be able to go to bed without reflecting on your thoughts on this day.

    Sleep well.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    …Aw, Lieu. Ya killin’ me.

  • Amy Coletta says:

    Thank you again, Sarah. Happy Birthday, Don.

  • JeniMull says:

    Thank you, Sars.

    Thank you, Don. Happy Birthday.

  • Suzanne M says:

    Just to echo everyone else…

    Happy birthday, Don, and thanks.

    And thank you, too, Sars.

  • Jean says:

    I made it all day without crying until I got to the end of this.

  • Jen S says:

    Happy Birthday, Don, and sweet sleep, Sars. How still we see thee lie.

    Good Night Moon
    And Good Night Air
    Good Night Noises

  • Ari says:

    I really enjoyed this but don’t understand what it has to do with 9/11.

  • M says:

    You have brought me to tears yet again. Beautiful.

    And happy birthday Don.

  • Jennifer Fury says:

    What with the six degrees of separation and all, I can’t believe that after 8 years NO ONE has come forward and said “you know I have a friend or a friend of a friend named Don, whose birthday is September 11, who talks about the woman he met that day.” HAving only been to NY once, I guess I keep forgetting how damned BIG that place is. I guess you could go your whole life and never see a particular individual again, or meet the friend of that individual.

    Anyway, to the person who said they don’t know what this has to do with 9/11. It is about love and inevitable loss. It is about being both a part of something big and powerful and yet being alone. It is fear and understanding. In short, it has everything and nothing at all to do with 9/11. And perhaps 8 years on, that is as it should be. Always there. but becoming more like just another part of who we are. New Yorkers, Americans, human beings.

  • Audrey says:

    I somehow missed this piece yesterday, but I loved it. So mournful and somehow hopeful at the same time.

    Happy Birthday, Don. If you are an angel of the earthly variety, I can’t wait ’till you find this website and see how many perfect strangers have sent you birthday wishes–surely it’s some kind of record.

  • tixie says:

    Happy birthday Don… thanks for your words, as always, Sarah…

  • Kate says:

    I found myself saying ‘yes, snow! exactly.’ And then ‘oh, Don! Where are you?’

    Happy birthday, and thanks again, Sars.

  • Liz C says:

    Lovely piece. Thank you for giving me a legitimate reason to listen to one of my favorite pieces of Christmas music in mid-September.

  • Sarah says:

    This is so beautiful. I, too, keep coming back every year to see if you found Don. I hope you do, Sars, and I hope Don had a wonderful birthday. Thank you for such thoughtful writing; your words feel so peaceful.

  • Smark says:

    Just perfect.

    How did you know I spent this winter rocking my newborn daughter to sleep, watching the snow at 4:00 am and singing In the Bleak Midwinter?

  • tess says:

    Sars – you don’t need to publish this if you don’t want because it’s kind of random. Have you ever thought that maybe you heard Don’s name wrong? That maybe it was Dan or Ron or something? Stupid, I know, but I was just involved in a really horrible incident (for someone else) and I found out that I completely got this girl’s name wrong and I called her the wrong name the whole time and she never corrected me because “there was so much stuff going on and it didn’t seem important.”

    Anyway, when I read this I thought I’d just mention it. That entry was beautiful.

  • Margaret in CO says:

    Such beautiful thoughtful words. Thank you for the peace you conjured up.

    Happy Birthday, Don. We miss you, and we never even met you!

  • Ebeth says:

    Beautiful, Sars. My favorite “Christmas song” and an incredible reflection. Thank you.

  • Mike says:

    Just stumbled on this after reading your etiquette piece. A beautiful, elegiac poem. Thanks for your words.

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