On that uncommonly cool evening in late summer,

Tim left the house after the rest of the family had gone to bed.
He quietly closed the back door,
and he walked in bare feet through the lush turf of the back yard
until he found his favorite spot.

There was a gentle slope where he liked to sit on clear nights and watch the stars.
He loved the quiet and the darkness and the thick grass.
He sat at first, legs crossed, hands folded as if in prayer, head thrown back
so he could see the bright stars in the black sky.

But soon, he lay back, his body making a cross-like impression in the lawn.
Arms outstretched, legs aimed down the hill,
the back of his head pillowed by the cool grasses
that tickled his ears with the slightest breeze.

As his eyes adjusted to the darkness,
the stars multiplied to become galaxies,
a silver blanket thrown over the night sky as if to remind us that
there is a heaven somewhere,
if not out there, at least somewhere.

Tim whispered to himself words taught him by his star-loving grandmother.
“The stars do not come to tell us it is night,
but to lay beams of light through it,
and give the eye a path to walk in.”         [Henry Ward Beecher]

When he said the words “a path to walk in,”
as if on some cosmic cue, Tim saw a shooting star.
He had been willing to wait all night for that star,
but there it was already.
And not some peripheral flash,
but a bright slashing arc sharply focused right before his eyes.
Tim knew it was not really a star, but a meteor,
and he expected more that night.

But the first one provided all the path he needed to walk in.
And his imagination took him by the hand and led him along the arc,
as if he could walk the edge of a rainbow from one end to the other.

He wondered if he were walking alone.
He wondered how many others had seen the light
and bothered to follow it.
How many would there be walking that path?
Would they journey in quiet awe,
as if silently walking barefoot down the center aisle of a great cathedral?
Or would they romp like noisy children disrupting a bird watch
and frighten away any rare beauty they might have enjoyed
if they had walked more carefully?

Another flash!

A shorter path, but in the same direction.
If the first shooting star of the night was a gift,
this one seemed to Tim to have been more an interruption.
He hadn’t finished walking the first path yet,
and now there was a choice to make.
Which star to wish on?
He reasoned that the shorter path would be more crowded with noisy pilgrims,
so he replayed the fall of the first meteor and imagined that he walked its path
in solitude.

Tim wondered how long he would walk alone without growing lonely.
A like-minded, like-hearted companion would be a comfort.
Silence shared
is twice the solitude, half the loneliness.

On his grassy bed, under the silver blanket of the sky,
Tim imagined a whole community of star-walkers traveling that one beam of light,
one light, one path, one people, one destination.
Before he fell asleep,
Tim counted twenty-one falling stars.
But he never left the path of the first one
that came as a bright gift in the darkness of that night.
It was the one most expected, and most startling.

Like the star child of Advent
whose coming surprises even those who waited so faithfully so long.