I used to shut my eyes before my mom turned off the lights so I wouldn’t see it get dark. This is an ironic strategy, I know, since shutting my eyes had the same effect as turning off the lights. But that eclipse of light was under my control. The lights being turned off created an out-of-control, dense, whispering darkness in my bedroom that manifested in shadows in the closet and a demonic piggy bank.
That poor piggy bank was adorable before the lights went out. His nose was a cork with a ring in it. I loved him in the light. But, when the lights went out, he became something else altogether.
It didn’t help that my sister would add to the experience by whispering from her twin bed, “Donna, don’t look out the window. There’s a man there. He’s looking in. Just don’t look at the window.” Of course this meant I was now going to do two things – 1) look directly at the window, and 2) punch my sister at some point the next day which would only encourage her to scare me, again, as payback. It was a vicious sibling cycle.
What I realize from this memory is that fear makes the dark live. Fear takes innocent objects such as my piggy bank, and contorts them.
I have to admit that even as an adult I still see shadows move in the dark. I’m pretty sure this is partially due to an excessive amount of time spend watching Ghost Hunters.
I know that the problem isn’t the dark. The problem isn’t the shadows.The problem is fear.
Barbara Brown Taylor has written a brilliant book titled, Learning to Walk in the Dark. In order to write this book, she forced herself to sit in the dark regularly. She took long, solitary walks in the silence of night. She found caves and sat in them alone. I would have run from that cave sure that a bat was going to fly into my hair. But Barbara Brown Taylor discovered something else:
Darkness is shorthand for anything that scares me — either because I am sure that I do not have the resources to survive it or because I do not want to find out. If I had my way, I would eliminate everything from chronic back pain to the fear of the devil from my life and the lives of those I love. At least I think I would. The problem is this: when, despite all my best efforts, the lights have gone off in my life, plunging me into the kind of darkness that turns my knees to water, I have not died. The monsters have not dragged me out of bed and taken me back to their lair. Instead, I have learned things in the dark that I could never have learned in the light, things that have saved my life over and over again, so that there is really only one logical conclusion. I need darkness as much as I need light.
So, when life seems terrifying . . .
Know that the dark is not your enemy. The fear of the dark is your nemesis. Fear takes jobs and illnesses and irritations and makes them bigger than they really are. It takes your cancer and turns it into a life sentence rather than a biological imbalance. Fear of being rejected takes a relationship and creates a gap of communication that robs you of a lover. Fear of rejection takes that dream job and tells you that it’s impossible, that you don’t deserve it, that nobody else has done it so you can’t either.
Fear makes things appear larger and more out of control than they are.
Like Barbara Brown Taylor, I have found that fear only survives when I feed it and avoid it at the same time.
Yes, I had another dream . . .
I remember the turning point of my fears. I was in sixth grade, and I dreamed that my parents were having lunch in a railroad car with their best friends. I was outside looking in, when a man started to chase me around that railroad car. Each time I passed my parents, I tried to get their attention, but they wouldn’t look at me. As in so many dreams, I was running and speaking in slow motion. I finally got tired of running, so I stopped in my tracks and turned around to face the man. I just spun right around. And you know what happened? He disappeared in front of my eyes.
So, try facing your fears rather than letting them control your life. They don’t last when you expose them, because you are bigger than your fears. Just repeat to yourself – No fear!
Tonight, I’m going to turn off all the lights and look out my bedroom window. And if there really is a man standing there, I’m getting in my car, driving to my sister, and punching her again.