Preface: The Mockingbird’s Midnight Song
“But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.”
It’s the middle of another restless and sleepless night. Being exhausted both physically and mentally, yet unable to get the thing you need most—sleep—is so frustrating. So I finally wearily rolled out of bed. That’s what all of the sleep books tell you to do when you have insomnia. Get out of bed and do something. Read. Eat a snack. Watch TV. Pray.
I’ve tried all of these night after night, and very seldom do any of them work. My mind and heart seem to be racing along at one hundred miles per hour. Nothing seems to be able to slow down the sadness and anxiety inside me.
On this particular night, I decide to walk outside. It’s about midnight, cloudy, and there is no moon. In the rural area where I live, outdoor light is not overwhelming so the yard is very dark, even as my eyes adjust to being outside. I’ve always loved being outside at night—looking at the stars, tracing the path of an overhead jet, and just soaking in the soothing sounds of a country night.
But in my depression and insomnia, my soul feels just as black as the darkness surrounding me. I’m completely enveloped in it. I stand there, trying to concentrate and pray in the quiet darkness. I think back to the books I’ve read by those who’ve been depressed. These books all have something in common. They always describe their depression in terms of darkness, night, or blackness. One writer called it, “The black night of the soul.” Author William Styron described it as “The black dog of despair.”1 Winston Churchill, also a depression sufferer, called it “my black dog.”
Tonight the silence is deafening. It is as if even the night creatures—crickets, owls, frogs, and barking dogs—have found a hiding place to escape the darkness.
Then suddenly from the river birch tree in our driveway comes clear, beautiful singing. It is a mockingbird. If you aren’t from the South and haven’t heard this bird, it is hard to describe its song. It is loud and is made up of about seven sequences of sounds—some stolen from other birds or nearby common sounds. In the classic book, Louisiana Birds,2 ornithologist George Lowery tells of a “mockingbird that so successfully imitated a dinner bell that it frequently caused the farm hands to come out of the field expecting their noon meal.”
This midnight bird in our tree is a real singer who sits up high in the tree as the guardian of our yard. And he sings—and sings loudly—with passion. To him, it doesn’t matter that it is a dark, moonless night when any respectable bird should be silently sleeping.
This mockingbird is going to sing even if it is midnight—even if it is dark—even if no one else hears his song. He is chirping away for the simple, pure joy of singing. Moreover, the fact that he has the entire sound stage to himself makes his song seem louder and fuller. It is the end of the opera and the great soloist is singing the aria—he needs no accompaniment. Any other sounds would only diminish the incredible beauty of this virtuoso solo.
This bird unknowingly gives me a great gift—I’m reminded of how a follower of God can sing—even in the darkness—even in the toughest of circumstances.
Moreover, I’m reminded by this bird, and really by the God who created both him and his song, that I will get through this time of darkness. There is still hope for the restoration of joy, and even though now it seems I’ve lost my song, it is still deep within me and one day will be sung loudly and joyfully again.
I’d like to say my depression ended on that night, but that would not be true. The mockingbird that sang at midnight was only one of a thousand steps on my road to restored health and joyful living. I firmly believe it was a gift from God just for me. It is a gift that I now pass on to you.
The gift of a mockingbird,
in the darkness,
singing at midnight.