When I was growing up, basements were a place to put things that no longer had value. Basements were the place in homes where you spent the least amount of time. They became a container for keeping stuff out of sight and out of mind. The things which once held value would be forgotten and turn into a hoarded collection of useless things, which would eventually make their way to a landfill.
The basement was the place where I lived, slept, and spent too much time—not by choice. I hated the basement. It was a space of isolation that held horror, darkness, pain, and tears. It was cold, damp, and unfinished. I was oppressively placed at a level beneath the rest of my family, set apart as they consumed snacks and soda, and watched movies together on the weekends.
The thing I hated most about the basement was that there was only one light switch at the top of the stairs. In the middle of the night, if I needed to go to the bathroom, I would tiptoe across the cold cement floor, find my way to the stairwell like a stealth ninja, and count the steps (I had memorized the number) I needed to climb to get to the door of the first floor. The steps made creaky noises and I knew which spots to avoid in hopes of staying quiet. Often, I did my best to hold my bladder and wait to use the bathroom until the morning, when there was light to illuminate my path. I asked for a lamp and decorative lights for downstairs but my innocent and tender request was turned down or ignored each time.
I remember the nights of living into my rebellion and scurrying up the stairs to turn the light on after my bedtime, so I could finish my homework or because I was afraid of the darkness. My desire for light was met with scorn from my parents as they came downstairs, unscrewed and removed the light bulbs from the basement, and threatened that I would have to pay for the electricity I used beyond my usual early bedtime.
As I longed for light on the nights when I felt unsettled and afraid, I would climb on top of the large freezer chest and peer through the thick, blurred glass windows and allow my eyes to take in light from our street lamps. The warm orange glow was a source of comfort and assurance in the midst of the darkness around and above me.
My brilliance glowed in the darkness, just like the downstairs furnace’s soft, glowing flame.
I continued to see my cleverness grow, as I saved money I earned from walking an old lady’s dog, and purchased a Tap Light and some batteries. Although it didn’t give off much light, I had a sense of security and safety through the small source of light.
Another source of light I found were glow-in-the-dark plastic stars, purchased from my middle school book rewards store. I had a collection of small and large stars and placed them on the rafters above my bed. The soft pink and yellow stars provided me a little sense of light, and even wonder, in the dark basement. I was always worried these would be taken as well, but thankfully they never were.
Eventually, the door of the basement swung open on my 18th birthday, and I was freed from captivity. The door of my family and home was then closed, with a new lock to which I didn’t possess a key. Before I was freed, I collected my few belongings, including my stars, and on that day of leaving, I made a decision to leave one of the glowing stars behind. It was my way of saying that darkness will not overcome the light.
Last month I celebrated my birthday, which also marked 18 years since I lived in the basement. I invited friends and colleagues to send a birthday card that included a word that described me, along with a blessing/hope for this upcoming year. One of the cards came from a newer friend who described me with the word “light,” and included a tiny plastic bag of mini glow-in-the-dark stars—just like the ones that brought me comfort in the basement. Her kind words and gift reflected God’s kindness and depth of knowledge in my search for light.
Though the darkness encroached on me as a child behind closed doors, my adult self knows quite well that the light within me will not be taken or diminished, but bring illuminating hope to those around me.
Sandhya Oaks is a ministry leader, speaker, writer, and advocate. Born in India and adopted as a Transracial Adoptee in the Midwest, she has been serving with Cru Campus Ministry for more than 13 years and loves developing students and staff. She is the co-founder of The Adoption Triad, a social media group that provides community and resources to those connected to adoption and foster care. Her passion to walk with adoptive families is being lived out through leading virtual Transracial Adoption Parent Groups with Restoration Counseling. Sandhya recently moved to Colorado and spends her free time camping, sipping coffee with friends, and creating tasty charcuterie boards.