My snowmobile sputtered to a halt about 5 o’clock. I had just emerged from a long forest run into a clearing when it conked out. It was already very cold, nearly dark, and the engine would not turn over.
As a county health nurse, I had been this way dozens of times. Little villages, tucked away in a valley or clinging to a mountain side, are where I practice. Another hour and I would have roared into the town, in time for a meal and then to set up my clinic for the next morning.
But now I would have to hike in. I figured another three hours of slogging through snow, mainly headed uphill. I was outfitted for it, and I’ve lived here all my life, so I wasn’t panicked. In an emergency I had the SAT phone.
I switched on my headlamp, barely illuminating the clearing that had been under my snowmobile’s high beams a few moments before, found my snowshoes, and rearranged some of my gear to a single backpack. I shrugged into it, said a short prayer, and headed up the hill. My compass was in my outer pocket, but I was also confident in having traveled this way a lot. It was just going to be exhausting.
By a little after 8, I was winded, my legs were aching, but I had crested the lip of the valley where the little town was nestled. I paused, grateful I’d found it. I had sweat through my clothes, and spending the night at 25 below would be a killer with moisture near my body. The lights from about 20 small homes winked faintly in the darkness. I could almost taste the warm food and feel the hot shower my host family would provide. I was already two hours late, but I thought I could make it to their door in another 20 minutes.
I had not found any trail or pathway here. The blizzard earlier in the week had piled snow over any familiar markers, but I had made my way over the snow, blazing my own trail. Even now I was trying to figure the easiest, safest way down the slope.
Just as I was about to take a step, downward for the first time since I had abandoned the snowmobile, it happened. I’ll try to describe what I saw and felt, and I don’t blame you if you don’t believe it. I wondered if I was hallucinating. I assure you, I don’t take drugs, and I hadn’t had anything to drink but water from my canteen. I’m a rational person, a woman of science, and I’ve never had such an experience before, or since. All I can say is, I believe it was real.
There appeared before me an enormous, glowing mass. I couldn’t see its dimensions, but it dwarfed the valley and might have been as big as the moon for all I knew. I snapped off my headlight because the night sky was now brighter than noonday. My first thought was that this might be an alien spacecraft. It sounds foolish now, but I considered it. But nothing about it looked like it was meant for travel. No, it’s not a ship, I told myself.
The bottom surface, if that’s what it was, made me think of a gigantic soap bubble, gleaming iridescently in the blackness of this deep winter night. It had the rainbow swirling translucence of a bubble dancing on the breeze of a summer day.
But soap bubbles shimmer because of reflected and refracted light, and the only light for this vast shape came from within. I began to think this must be a city. Was it an actual city, or something like a hologram of a city? I do not know. But, again I say it, it was real.
If it was a city, it must have been larger than any city on earth. It stretched upward and expanded outward for miles and miles.
I don’t understand the optics of this, but the translucent nature of the “bubble” allowed me glimpses within. Those glimpses were blurred and distorted, like looking through old, wavy glass. But I’ll tell you what I saw, and heard, and felt.
Golden light streamed everywhere. The light alone gave me a feeling of overwhelming joy and awful shame. My mother raised me to be a god-fearing woman, and I’ve tried to do the same with my kids. But in that moment I realized there was so much more that I had either denied or taken for granted. I was drawn to the light, but I knew it was a holy light. My own failures and short-comings – my mom would have called them sins – were more obvious to me than ever before.
I knew rather than saw that the light came from a central place. A Person. The name, Light of the World, came to my mind. And Light of this humongous city, too, I thought.
As the surface shimmered, I saw buildings and trees and a great river. Like a kaleidoscope, my vision shifted constantly. Broad streets, beautiful homes, parks, and people.
They looked like normal human beings but, and I hesitate to use this word, perfect. Imagine the happiest, kindest, holiest, most welcoming people you’ve ever met, and then multiply that a thousand times, and you might be close. I longed to speak to them, to be with them. They were gathered in groups and walking two-by-two. Some seemed to be working or playing games or ….flying? I can’t be sure, but it looked like some people were just effortlessly skimming through the air, waving at those on the ground, and enjoying themselves. But I never caught more than a few seconds before the scene shifted again.
I felt a deep longing, of wanting to be there, to bathe in the Light, to enter in, to fly. And suddenly I thought of my husband and my children. Instantly my eyes filled with tears – oh, if we could all be there together!
The sounds I heard were just like the visuals – gone in a few sounds. There were snatches of conversation, much laughter, and the most glorious singing I have ever heard. Single voices and great choir choruses washed over me. I didn’t get many of the words, but I wanted to join in the singing. It didn’t seem like religious music, or at least not what I was used to in the little church I attended. It made you want to dance and shout, and it seemed like every song was about Jesus. Just as I would try to join in, the song was gone, as if someone was spinning the tuner on an old radio.
I did not have any sense of time. I never thought my vision would last, but I hoped it would. I heard one voice very clearly. It was my mother, and she called my name. “Mom, where are you?” I cried, hoping to catch a glimpse of her sweet face.
And then, like a soap bubble popping in the rising breeze, the city was gone as if it had never been there. I was left staring at a blank, black night sky devoid even of stars as the clouds of a new storm had rolled in earlier and flakes of snow had begun to fall. I was weak and shaken, and I thought I should sit down and rest. But then the below-zero temperature began to seep into my bones. I shook myself, and snapped on my headlamp again.
I looked down, where I had been standing and staring. I had been perched on my snowshoes, standing on at least 18 inches of snow. But now I saw I was on thick grass, poking through the webbing of my snowshoes. The snow had melted in rough circle around me, and I was astounded to see little wildflowers dotting the small grassy space. The rest of the hillside was still a frozen white.
I glanced at my watch. It was only 8:15. My entire experience had lasted maybe 10 minutes.
I stepped again on the thick blanket of snow, and gingerly made my way down the ravine to the village. I was greeted by the friendly shouts of men who had evidently been out looking for me. “I’m here,” I said.
But now I only wanted to be there. The name of that city seemed obvious to me. I confess I had never thought much about it before. But the 10 minutes on that slope changed me forever. I stayed in the village and ran the clinic for several days, and after the storm passed, one of the men drove me back. I had never been so eager to see my family.
In the days that followed, I sat my husband and children down to tell them what had happened. I spent hours describing the city of Light that had appeared out of the winter night, and how I felt about it and the voice I heard at the very end.
They were skeptical at first, and the kids made jokes about Mommy’s fairytale. But they all sat silently when I opened my day planner and handed each of them a tiny wildflower. Eventually everyone was convinced that I had seen a city, and they began to believe with me. The wonder of it began to fill our home, and it still does, all these years later. We all pledged to be there together one day.
My daughter asked, “Mommy, what if I can’t find the way?” “Honey, there’s only one way,” I said. And I proceeded to tell her about Him.