Finding Peace Amidst Chaos: The Night that Made Me Feel Truly Safe
As a child, I never felt safe. There was always a looming threat—my father.
My father was an alcoholic who would hang out in bars at night. When he came home, well after we were all in bed, there was always the possibility he might pick a fight with my mom. Go on a rant about something that wasn’t going right for him. Maybe even a rant about someone who disrespected him. He might even wake me or my sister up with an unfounded fear he had that we were on drugs.
My childhood home did not feel safe to me. But there was one place that did.
I was eight years old. It was Christmas Eve. Our ritual was to go to Midnight Mass. I always looked forward to going to this church service. So many emotions were packed into that time of year, especially that day.
I don’t remember going or coming home. I do remember being at this church service.
The lighting in this very formal and proper Catholic Church was always a bit dim. But somehow, the lighting was perfect. There was a dampness in this old building, but because of the number of people attending, I felt a soothing warmth.
I was standing next to my mother. We were holding hands. Everyone was dressed in their best suits and dresses. Me in my coat and tie and mom in her best dress. As I think back, I realize she was a vibrant mom of fifty years old. She always stood strong with perfect posture, head up, alert, and ready for what was to come.
Then the music started.
Adeste Fidelis, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, O Come Emanuel, O Holy Night, Ave Maria, and the grand finale of Silent Night. Not only did I hear the music, but because of the power of the pipe organ, I felt the music. It rattled my chest. It was so powerful. These songs and the accompanying music lifted me above the crowd.
I was so small at eight that I couldn’t see past the people in the pews before me. But it didn’t matter. I was safe. I was holding my mother’s hand, and we were in the hand of God. It was a feeling of safety I only felt at this service, on that night, with my mom, with my nostrils filled with the incense of the Mass.
This was the first place in my life that I felt safe. Real safety. And this safety gave me peace. And this peace soothed my mind and my body. There was no pending threat. I was safe.
This place at this time allowed me to experience joy, true joy. Christmas Eve Mass at St. Paul’s Catholic Church in the Greenville section of Jersey City, New Jersey. To this day, I look forward to the Christmas Eve service at our current church. When I am there, I am a child again and safe from everything. I am with God, and he is protecting me. I’m with my family. I'm safe. We are all safe.
This is a deep memory because it was the first place I felt safe. I’ll never forget it. I’ll always relive it. To this day, when we sing Hark the Herald Angels at our Church in Atlanta on Christmas Eve, I cry. Not sometimes, every time.
This was the first time I remember feeling safe and unthreatened. I didn’t know a place like this existed.
I found a safe place. A second time came to mind as I wrote this. I’ll share the second place in my next article.
How do your childhood experiences of safety or lack thereof influence your adult life?
If you enjoyed this post, buy me a cup of coffee to encourage me and keep the writing flowing! ☕