The Star That Was Caught in the Branches

Eight-­year­-olds were not supposed to be astir at this hour. But I wanted to sit in the swing for a while and watch the moonlight. (This Reader's Digest classic story was published in 1957 as "Perfect Moment.")

By Gladys Bell
Also published in Reader's Digest Magazine May 1957 and

May 1957 RD ClassicsSomewhere along the road be­tween “beginning” and “ending” there is a perfect moment for every living soul. There may possi­bly be more than one. But for the most part we are too busy, too young, too adult, too sophisticated, too this or too that to recognize it—and so the moment may be lost.

My perfect moment came when I was eight years old. I awoke one spring night to find moonlight flooding my room through the open win­dow. It was so bright that I sat up in bed. There was no sound at all any­ where. The air was soft and heavy with the fragrance of pear blossoms and honeysuckle.

I crept out of bed and tiptoed softly out of the house. Eight-­year­-olds were not supposed to be astir at this hour. But I wanted to sit in the swing for a while and watch the moonlight. As I closed the door be­hind me, I saw my mother sitting on the porch steps. She looked up and smiled and, putting her finger to her lips, reached out with her other hand and drew me down beside her. I sat as close as I could and she put her arm around me.

The whole countryside was hushed and sleeping; no lights burned in any house. The moonlight was liquid silver and so bright we could see the dark outline of the woods a mile away. “Isn’t it beauti­ful?” I whispered, and Mother’s arm tightened about me.

Our shepherd dog, Frollo, came across the lawn and stretched him­ self out contentedly, his head on Mother’s lap. For a long time we were all three perfectly still. The stars were pale and far away. Now and then the moonlight would strike a leaf of the Marechal Niel rose be­ side the porch and be caught for an instant in a dewdrop like a tiny liv­ing spark. The shrubs were hung with necklaces of diamonds, and the grass was sweet with the dampness.

We knew that in the dark woods there were movement and sound among the wild things—the rabbits and squirrels, the opossums and chipmunks, as they moved about in their own world. And in the shad­owy garden, and in the fields, things were growing. In the meadow the foal slept beside its mother, and nearby a young calf nuzzled its mother.

Very soon the blossoms on the fruit trees would loose their petals in a pink­-and­-white snowfall, and in their place the young fruit would appear. The wild­ plum thicket would be filled with plums, round and glowing like tiny lanterns, made sweet by the sun and cool by the rain. In another field the young corn plants were inching their way up­ ward. Melons would soon dot the trailing vines where now the squash­ like blooms were replenishing their nectar in preparation for the onrush of bees in the morning.

In all this great brooding silence that seemed so infinite, the miracle of life was going on unseen and unheard. The bird sitting on her eggs in the mulberry tree carried out a divine purpose. The hills, undis­turbed by passing centuries, pro­ claimed strength and grandeur. The moving of the stars, the planets, the countless worlds, all were governed and held within the safety of the omnipotent yet gentle hand of the Creator.

Mother pointed toward the cedar tree. “Look,” she whispered softly, “that star seems caught in the branches.”

As we watched it, suddenly from the topmost point of a pear tree a mockingbird burst into song. It was as though the joy that overflowed his heart must find expression. The notes were pure gold, free and clear and liquid as the moonlight, rising, falling, meltingly sweet. At times they were so soft as to be barely audible; then he would sing out, a rapturous profondo. As suddenly as it had begun, the concert ended and the night was silvery still again.

An eight­-year-­old does not analyze his thoughts, he may not even be aware that he is surrounded by in­finity. But he sees a star impaled on the branch of a cedar tree, and knows pure ecstasy. He hears a mockingbird sing in the moonlight, and is filled with speechless joy. He feels his mother’s arms about him, and knows complete security.

The surging, sweeping process of life, the moving of worlds and the flowing of tides, may be incompre­hensible to him. But he may never­theless be strangely aware that he has had a glimpse through an open door, and has known a perfect moment.

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