One Day, Night Fell

Night fell. There’s something sinister about a sentence like that. If you run across it in a story, I can almost guarantee that things are about to get crazy. You could be reading a book about nice, old ladies drinking tea and playing cards. But if you see “Night fell,” you can expect vampires, serial killers, and/or giant spiders to come from nowhere and start wrecking some serious tea party havoc. Night is when evil walks free. Night falling in a story is never a good thing.

Night fell.

Nights are lonely. A while back I talked with someone whose wife left him several years into their marriage. He was reflecting on how difficult that transition was—custody issues, financial pressures, anger, jealousy, fear. Tough stuff. But without question, he said, nights were the hardest. During the day, he could keep himself busy with work and other responsibilities, distracting himself from the loneliness, pain, and bitterness. But when night fell, there was no more hiding. In the darkness, he was alone.

Night fell.

Guilt and shame love darkness. They wear it like a cloak, hiding deep within its velvety folds, safe from prying eyes. And in a sense, darkness is liberating. People do things at night they would never consider during the day. The shadows of night free us from the inhibitions and constraints of day. With our guilt and shame well hidden, we are free to pursue our desires, satisfy our needs, and soothe our lusts. In the night, guilt and shame find a home.

Night fell.

Kids seem to understand all of this instinctively. You don’t have to teach kids that bad stuff happens when night falls. They just get it. I woke up the other night to find my youngest daughter asleep on the armchair in my bedroom…upside down, head dangling from the bottom of the chair, legs sticking straight up its back, blanket a tangled mess around her arms and chest. I wasn’t surprised. This happens a lot in our family. My daughter can play happily by herself for hours at a time. But when night falls, she looks for any excuse to be close to someone. Nights are scary, dangerous, lonely places.

Night fell.

When night fell on Elie Wiesel, his life ended. One day, Elie was living with his family in their quaint, tightknit, and occasionally quirky community. One day he had a place to belong—family, friends, faith, and freedom. One day, Elie had shalom. And one day, night fell.

Elie is a Jew, and his family lived in Eastern Europe during World War II. Although they’d heard warnings about what was happening to Jews everywhere, they refused to flee. They just couldn’t leave their houses and synagogues, abandon their communities, and lose everything they had called home. So they stayed.

And night fell.

For the next twelve months, Elie and his father tried to survive the brutality and inhumanity of Nazi concentration camps. And Elie describes the experience as being like one long, brutal “night,” not the simple period of darkness that concludes each day, but the dark night of loneliness, despair, and brokenness that had descended on him and his family. A night in which, as one prisoner told him, “there are no fathers, no brothers, no friends,” where “everyone lives and dies for himself alone.” A night where every value is inverted, perverted, and destroyed: “Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, that turned my life into one long night seven times sealed.”

Night fell.

Among Jews, the Holocaust goes by another name, shoah, the Hebrew word for destruction. And it’s a good word for describing the terrible reality of the Holocaust. Shoah. The destruction of community, intimacy, trust, hope, faith, love, and even humanity itself. Shoah. A destruction that does not simply eliminate the good—no, that would be too easy—this is a destruction that crushes and corrupts the good, reshaping it into a twisted parody, a mockery of all that was once held dear.  Families remain, but only as a burden holding back those who would seek to survive the abyss, fighting and killing one another over mere scraps of bread. Hope remains, but only as a weapon used by guards to keep prisoners in line, tantalizing them with a vision of what they know will never come. Faith remains, but only as a painful accusation against a deity once trusted and adored. Shoah.

Night fell.

Once there was a boy named Elie. Once he had a family and a home. Once there was shalom. No longer. Night has fallen. Now there is darkness, loneliness, pain, despair, shame, and loss. Shalom is gone. Shoah has come.

Night fell.

Once there was a time when God’s people were naked, living in shameless intimacy with him and one another, displaying his glory in the world as they cared for the creation he’d so graciously given them. Once we had shalom.

But one day, night fell.

Not a night forced on us by a violent oppressor, but a night of our own choosing. A night that descended when we chose to go our own way, abandoning God’s purpose and plan to pursue our own glory. A night of loneliness and alienation, despair and brokenness, shame and guilt. A night seeming without end.

Once there was shalom. Now there is shoah.

Night fell.

[This is one of my favorite excerpts from my book Good News for the Living Dead: A Fresh Take on the Gospel Story. And I drew the material for this post from Elie Wiesel’s Night, a compelling account of his ordeal during WWII. I have to admit that I’m still a bit nervous about using shoah as a parallel to shalom in this context, knowing its strong associations with the Holocaust. So I’d appreciate any feedback you might have about how it works in this context.] 

Comments

comments

7 Responses to “One Day, Night Fell”

  1. Lucia Haskins March 23, 2012 at 7:10 am #

    Vivid imagery that evokes the reality of what may seem petty, meaningless moment by moment decisions, as well as the monumental, when the Lord sets before us Life and Death.

    Thank you, LRH

  2. Jonathan Chechile March 23, 2012 at 12:16 pm #

    It works on both levels. The language leaves you chilled to the bone, and the final words contrasting what was with what is sticks with you. I think that the comparison of Shalom and Shaoh is valid, and even helpful, because the background of the holocaust makes us see the gravity and grimness of the post-fall world even more clearly.

  3. Marc Cortez March 23, 2012 at 2:23 pm #

    Hey, thanks for the feedback. I appreciate it.

  4. Mark Taylor March 27, 2012 at 4:23 pm #

    I loved Wiesel’s Night. Actually wrote a paper on him in HS; very interesting man. Looking forward to your forthcoming book.

  5. Morgan Smith March 27, 2012 at 7:54 pm #

    This is really really good!!!! I actually remember reading Night in middle school as an 8th grader and remember having to do this really long project on it, but I remember I actually liked that book out of the ones we had to read (and it shows because I don’t even remember what else we had to read…), but using the imagery from that book really helped me get the message. Thanks!!!

  6. Marc Cortez March 27, 2012 at 7:57 pm #

    Hey, I’m glad it resonated with you. It’s particularly good to hear from a couple of people who have read Wiesel’s book and found the imagery helpful. Thanks.

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