O Night Divine

O Night Divine December 21, 2023

It was the second-shortest day of the year, the day before the shortest day of all, the day before the light starts to come back.

There was a knock at the door, which surprised me. Jimmy was coming to fix my car when he didn’t forget, but he was so busy with odd jobs around the neighborhood that he’d said he wouldn’t have time to help us for days. But there he was when Michael answered the door.

The battered and chipped Serendipity was out on the curb, the door still smashed shut. Jimmy popped the hood and fiddled around in the engine for several minutes before emerging with something that looked like an inhaler. It was, in fact, the speed sensor. The speed sensor was the likely culprit for all eight codes, but there was no way to know until we put in the new one and started her. And then Adrienne and I got to go for a drive downtown in Jimmy’s Jeep, so I could swipe my card for the part.

On the way down and back, we chatted about the car. He told me yet again the sequence of events that led to the catastrophe last year: Someone sold a car with mysterious electrical problems to the dealership in Pittsburgh to get rid of it. The dealership thought the problem was the motor and swapped out the perfectly good original one for a junkyard motor; they taped up the rotting wiring harness and sold it to an unsuspecting woman from Ohio. I drove it for two months before the harness completely fell apart, killing the alternator which in turn killed the battery. The Lost Girl and her family claimed they could fix it and swindled me; I could have gotten in an accident and died, and it was a miracle I didn’t end up with a worse meltdown that totally fried the computer. Not even Jimmy could fix a Nissan with a ruined computer. The wiring had only killed one sensor, and prematurely aged the others. The speed sensor was the next to wear out. It’ll be another one one day.

I thought of the way I’d been just a block from my house the first time the car died, and slowed harmlessly to a stop on a side street the second time.

I thought of the way that the breakdown had led to me discovering that one family was using me and didn’t care about me at all– and to getting to know Jimmy and his children so much better, having his boy visit and help me in the garden. That in turn led to the children from across the street dropping by. The fiasco with the car even led to my giving up on pious Catholic homeschooling and sending Adrienne to the public school that she fiercely loves now– being so lonely when we couldn’t drive anywhere last winter was the last straw. Now she has friends.

Fitting enough that I named the car “Serendipity.”

Jimmy only took a few minutes to put the new speed sensor back in. He unplugged and re-plugged the battery so the old codes would go away, and I went for a drive.

She drove perfectly.

I won’t get my perfect trip to Columbus to see Christmas in the big city like I’d wanted, and I don’t think I want to drive all the way to Pittsburgh until the door is fixed, but I can drive her around Steubenville and look at Christmas lights.

For the first time in 17 years, Christmas in Steubenville didn’t seem like a punishment.

I drove all the way to Walmart to pick up some ingredients for Christmas cookies. While I was there, I bought a set of Matchbox cars to give Jimmy’s boy. I wanted to get him a toy gardening kit he could use to help me in the yard this spring, but there wasn’t one. I’ll pick one up for him for Epiphany.

I came home and got the Christmas packages off the porch. Michael was asleep in bed, having caught yet another of Adrienne’s middle school head colds; I suppose I’ll catch it next. Adrienne sat on the sofa and found us a Christmas playlist while I baked more than ten dozen gluten free Christmas cookies: cake mix cookies and oatmeal cookies, chocolate crinkles and Russian teacakes. A tray of treats for us. One for Jimmy’s family. One for the Baker Street Irregulars. One for the Friendship Room to share with all their guests. I didn’t stop baking until we ran out of butter.

“O Holy night,” sang the television, “The stars are brightly shining! It is the night of the dear savior’s birth! Long lay the world in sin and error pining, til he appeared and the soul felt its worth!”

What is the worth of a soul?

The going price of the human soul is the Word being made flesh, and dwelling among us.

The value of the human soul is God becoming a human soul as well.

The weight of a human soul is the weight a Divine Person who lacks nothing becoming a person who is totally helpless, lying in a crib, being carried across a border in a genocide, coming back to grow up in poverty and obscurity, accepting the most ignominious death, descending into hell and rising again.

A human life is a thing so worthy that God decided to have one, in order to deify ours.

“A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!” 

I felt the worth of my human soul just then. Not in some fairy tale life where I accomplished what I was supposed to in Steubenville, got that Master’s Degree and went off preaching the Gospel, but in this one, where I lost everything and stayed here. Not in an imaginary place where  I didn’t make mistakes, but here where I made atrocious ones and suffered the consequences, and still found a life worth living. Not in a perfect or even a very good church, but in a cult I’d mistaken for authentic Christianity and in deconstructing the cult to find Christ. Not out there somewhere where it doesn’t hurt, but here where God dwells in the hurt and is still there when the hurt goes away.

Not in a place where I became a saint, but here, in the weary world where I had the Christianity beaten out of me, and then found it again.

Fall on your knees, O hear the angel voices! O night divine! O night when Christ was born! O night divine! O night, O night divine!” 

Night fell indeed, the second longest night of the year. Tomorrow will be the shortest day of all, and then the light comes back.

I believe in light just now.

For the first time in my life, I think it’s going to be all right.



Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.

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