You Will Not Fear the Terror of the Night

Karen Gempel // Tales From the Trenches


August 1  

I am torn from sleep by a child’s voice screaming. No words, just shrieks! We are in a hotel room on holiday, and the scream in the next bed is my two-year-old grandson having a night terror. He appears awake, his eyes are open, but he is sweating and writhing and won’t let us hold him. We try a drink of water, a wet washcloth, but still he cries.

I try the Polish lullaby my grandma sang to me.

Uśnijże mi, uśnij,

Pan Jezus cię uśpi,

Aniołek obudzi,

Pójdziemy do ludzi.

Do go to sleep, go to sleep for me,

Lord Jesus will put you to sleep,

A little angel will wake you up,

We will go see people.

A few verses and he sleeps.  Night Terrors. This wasn’t our first experience. Our first, third (Xavier’s mother), and fifth child had them. The medical community’s best guess is that they are caused by the overarousal of an immature central nervous system.

Our children, like most kids everywhere, feared the night well into their elementary school years. They dawdled at bedtime, had us check under the bed, asked for more water, stories, nightlights. The comfort we finally found seemed overly simple: pray; repeat next night; then, forever.

Angel of God, who art my guardian,

To whom merciful God entrusted me,

Enlighten and keep us this night,

Guard and lead us. Amen.

Last summer, we were looking at dream retirement homes and happened upon a crazy-cheap, Victorian, stone, fixer-upper by the Llano River. The rooms had high, arched windows, and an ancient oak tree shaded the entire house, including the original stone cistern in the back. Inside, someone had painted the bedroom wall purple, but when I saw the shaky lettering around the ceiling, I stopped cold and walked out. It was an old Scottish prayer:

From ghoulies and ghosties

And long-leggedy beasties

And things that go bump in the night

Good Lord, deliver us!

I learned later that the home was on a local “haunted” tour.

As mothers, we too often experience Night Terror. We lie awake, our mature nervous systems colliding with disaster for hours as we remember a small problem then build it toward the most horrible conclusion; meanwhile, our spouses beside us have tossed and turned for an average of fifteen seconds. It’s true. How many times have we lain down in the supposed place of peace and rest (where we spend 23 percent of our time) and let our fears get the best of us?

The other evening a rare, summer, cool front blew into Texas, and while John finished up some chores, I went to lie down and say a Rosary. I opened the window next to our bed, and the coolness was so welcome, so much like a caress, that I almost cried. The night was kind. The night was good. I could finally relax! Thank you so much, my God, for this time of peace, for you are my resting place.

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