I glanced at my watch halfway through the meeting – 7:35 p.m. The expected pain was absent, and in its place, a slow and simple ache. For the first time in his life, my infant son went to bed without hearing me say goodnight. I’m sure he slept better than I did that evening.
Too often I’ve spoken a goodnight as an involuntary twitch, the mumbled period of necessity at day’s end. But now, after the birth of two more sons and countless bedtimes missed, the word goodnight is one of the most holy sounds I utter. To say goodnight is to speak a blessing. It might serve as a simple wish for restful sleep; it might be a prayer for soaring dreams. But in one way or another, goodnight, like any other blessing, is a magical spell carried on the breath of beloved souls.
I believe in saying goodnight. I’m not sure how old I was when I first grasped the charged power of giving and receiving blessings. No solitary moment stands out. Myriad people, however, do stand out: my father and his handwritten letters; my mother and her stories; teachers and their affirmation; friends and their laughter. I doubt any of them would have said they were giving a blessing. The word sounds too parochial. But blessing is not contingent on a particular religious tradition. Whether I pray in a synagogue, sanctuary, temple or mosque – or for that matter, on a pond’s calm altar, a back porch pew or bathed in the incense of canvas and watercolors – I can still know the power of blessing. I just need a pulse and something to see with. Eyes are helpful; a heart is even better. Then I see words larger than the world; they draw out all that is most deeply human and holy.
The best blessings involve more than verbal contact; they involve touch – smooth skin, calloused hands, wrinkled foreheads. Each night I pull my sons close knowing I can hold them for only so long. Small face pressed to large face, I say my goodnight blessing to each. Their breath is the Holy Ghost to me in such moments. And when they reflect my words, when they say goodnight to me, they become my priests. Maybe they have no idea what goodnight means, but neither do I half the time I say it. The words are bigger than us, and, hopefully, we will grow into them.
That’s why I’m willing to change my schedule if it means saying goodnight. I say goodnight because the people I love need to hear it. If honest, I say it because I need to hear it. This world needs to hear it. We all need to hear words that give us room to rest and renew. We need to hear that though darkness cloaks our night, the darkness will not shrivel our hearts. The clockwork dawn will crow its song again, and we will wake to a new day.