On Fear of the Dark

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I have always been afraid of the dark. When I was a boy in rural Connecticut, I used to lie awake at night, listening to our old house creak around me, watching shadows creep up the walls of my room and across the ceiling. I was afraid to go down into our cellar, where the washer, dryer, and Mother’s canned goods were kept, because there was a back room, seldom lit, that opened on a cavernous passageway so thick with darkness you could see no farther than a few yards into it.

If you have lived all your life in the city, you may not appreciate just how dark rural nights can be. Outdoors, night transformed our friendly open fields and woods into thick dense shadow, particularly when the moon was on the wane. Affable nocturnal cricket-chirp and brightly lathered starshine mitigated my outdoor night-fears somewhat, but I still feared the gaping open mouth of our barn, and watching horror movies on our black-and-white T.V. didn’t help matters. The shows that scared me were ludicrously tame by modern standards: Invaders From Mars, Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein, the British horror series Way Out, every episode of which ended in maniacal laughter. Nonetheless, afterwards, upstairs in my dark bed, I would clutch my stuffed animals and my mother’s rosary to me as though my life depended upon their protection.

Bathrooms, too, scared me at night, particularly bathrooms with the doors shut. So did bathtubs with the shower curtains drawn.

I know why, of course. In the dark, the familiar turns alien, just as when people the child depends upon for security and solace suddenly and without apparent warning show unexpectedly strange, severe, or malignant sides to their personalities. My alcoholic, emotionally disturbed mother’s sudden personality-shifts, my older brother Manfred’s sudden, sneering, verbal and physical attacks from nowhere, my parents’ unpredictable fights, all these terrors I projected onto the Enemy Out There Somewhere, unforeseeable in the dark.

I am 63 years old now, and I wish I could say I am no longer fearful of shadows. After all, I have spent a good part of my adulthood examining my own shadow material, as the psychologists call it, and I have had moments where visions of Divine Love have made all shadows flee away. But still they return. And one thing I know: I must learn to make friends with the dark if I am to someday face my inevitable death with equanimity. For as much as I preach that death is the doorway into Light, my inner child fears otherwise. And we ignore our inner children to our peril.

— Copyright 2014 Rand B. Lee.

 

 

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