“…Watchman, tell us of the Night,
for the morning seems to Dawn;
traveler, darkness takes its flight,
doubt and terror are withdrawn…”
Even as the halftime stanza between two halves of a basketball game or the intermission of a symphony, the Center is a lonely place after “lights out” and lock-down… when the last of these “guests” of this Lone Star empire have been swept under the carpet by dreaming Sleep.
With the last of the consultations concluded and all meds administered, after the final remnants of the day’s paperwork are processed there is little to do but to gird oneself for the long passage of the Night.
Of course, there are rounds to be made and other basic security measures that come with working the “graveyard shift” at a substance-abuse rehabilitation facility.
Armed with a powerful flashlight and two-way radio, I depart hourly to walk the grounds and patrol the various points of entry.
While an array of security cameras provide adequate coverage for the overall site, there are plenty of shadowy “nooks & crannies” by which intruders or escapees could slip through the cracks.
However, I confess that I find these to be pleasant diversions to the longer spans of the wee small hours. The facility sits upon a comely plot of earth on the outskirts of town, overlooking a nearby creek valley and shrouded in dense forestland.
Along the back of the property is a vast greenhouse, surrounded by vegetable and herb gardens as well as flowerbeds that accessorize the various “devotional” conclaves of aesthetic landscaping.
Prayer gardens and cozy gazebos abide throughout the Northern entrance into the shadowy woods.
Though the average stroll through the checkpoints should only cover a few minutes, my own typically press the boundaries of expediency.
It is not unusual for a colleague, once I have not appeared on the monitors in the central office for more than a few minutes, to hail me over the radio: “Are you there, Matthew?” comes a sudden urgent voice of crackling electric static.
As this facility is on state-owned and protected lands, it acts as something of a safe haven for the many woodland creatures of the vicinity. Rarely does an evening pass where I am not the guest of a few Whitetail Deer, Raccoons, ‘possums, and a host of hooting Owls; not to mention the untold legions of fat brown Squirrels that scurry about.
However, I think my favorite part of this shift is the singularity when late Night seems to yield to the first silvery tendrils of early Morn… for there is a palpable change that arises when the first of the sleeping creatures awakens.
Dewy mists rise up from the valley, casting a glittering sheen upon the grasses and tree branches, cascading over the rooftops and rising upward into a purple field of diamonds… surrounding all in a mystical haze that give everything an otherworldly appearance.
It is this all-too brief transience that I hold fast to, with all earnest thought and recollection. Every other moment is but pre- and postlude to this magical hour.
Like that great crescendo of mind and body found in the best of Sermons, when the Preacher has labored to lay the Word naked and pristine and glorious. Like logic on fire, like reason bathed in an ethereal holiness, like a gilded helix of art and toil. Particular. Universal.
I dare not speak in these instances, but wish to be enveloped. A small tear oft glides secretly along the contours of my cheekbone, drying in the gentle breeze.
O, but it passes… as with the lives of men, it blazes forth in a brilliant fire that consumes even what gives them Life.
…and I am left in its wake. Awakening to the first light are the first of my many tasks o’ the morning.
I return to my work, of care and ministerings, refreshed by the loving hand of the Father upon my shoulder and the Spirit within my chest.