We’ve been doing a lot of rearranging at my house recently. Furniture and furnishings are being shifted to new spaces and electric cords have been unplugged and relocated.

I noticed last night, turning off the overheads and checking on the kids before heading to bed myself, that one of our normal night lights in the dining room had been unplugged. I bent down and found the small device a spot on the new power strip that had been installed against the wall.

The small glow from the blocky device stuttered to life and I had to smile. For some reason, I find these small night lights very comforting. We put them into a few rooms a year or two back at the behest of one of our children, a little shy about trying to find the bathroom in the dead of night.

But something about these particular night lights – maybe the shade of illumination or the shape of the plastic container – instantly transports me back to the safety of summer evenings at my grandma’s house three decades ago.

I have distinct memories of crawling out from the covers in the wee hours all those years ago – in a modest house on a court in Peoria that seemed like a magical castle to me at the time – and padding down the carpeted hallway, following that faint glimmer coming from beside the sink to find the bathroom.

The longing for light would follow me back home, the summer vacation at an end. I’d lay in bed, covers to my chin inside a darkened bedroom and watch the crack in the bottom of the door. A sliver of light signified that mom and dad were still wandering the hallways – my sentries, my secret service – alive and ready to pounce on the monsters under the bed. But when I’d awake from dream or lay too long, restless and too warm to sleep, the light might extinguish, leaving me in the world by myself.

There is a continued comfort to physical light for me.

There have been so many nights – so many I have lost count – that I’ve come home late – from work or from a movie or from seeing a show with friends – and looked to certain windows to see if my wife was still awake, crossing my fingers that I would get to see her and say goodnight before she drifted off to dreamland.

Entering a darkened house is still a suffocating kind of loneliness to me.

I was reminded today in a discussion with a co-worker of a Jhumpa Lahiri story about a young married couple dealing with significant loss and the way in which they struggle to reconnect by turning off the lights, feeling a freedom in the darkness.

But it’s not the darkness I long for when I have been away from my family.

It’s that little light.

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