Growing up I was afraid of the dark.
It was bad.
If it was my turn to feed the cats after dark, I was a nervous wreck, certain that someONE or someTHING was out there waiting to “get” me. Even the flashlight did not ease my worries. As I got a little older I grew to appreciate the moon and stars and enjoyed gazing, but I still didn’t venture too far from the back stoop, within an easy dash to safety. And my Daddy, whom I was sure could take care of anything that came along.
So it was ironic that I roomed with my sister who loved the dark. We’re talking pitch black. If I even tried reading with a flashlight under the covers, she was not happy. I could not relax in the dark enough to go to sleep, so I would beg her to let me leave the hall light on and crack our door. Mama and Daddy would turn off the lights when they went to bed anyway. She usually put her foot down, but there were nights she’d be so tired, she’d acquiesce and I could fall asleep in peace.
Oh the nights when Mama and Daddy turned in early and they turned off all the lights in the house. Those were hard. The darkness held an unknown factor in it, and that is what I was afraid of. What I didn’t know. What could be out there. What might be. My mind would crank up, and some nights it was hard to shut it down.
I don’t remember when things changed, but now I find it hard to sleep if there are any lights on in my room. There can be an extraneous light from the kitchen or living room that might send a ray or two into the room and I will probably be okay. But if there is a lamp or booklight or phone lit up, I find it difficult to sleep. Wouldn’t Sister find that poetic justice? I haven’t had the nerve to tell her, after the hard time I gave her all those years.
So yes, I like to sleep in a dark room. Winter or summer, air conditioning or heat, it seems to me if a light is on in a room, it is hot. I find comfort sleeping in the dark.
But I am still afraid of the dark.
This occurred to me early in the wee hours of this morning. Miss Sophie had her “female” surgery yesterday, and I stayed up with her making sure she was comfortable and could sleep. While we cuddled, I read a few stories on the internet, and it hit me as I settled down for the night about 2:00 a.m., I am still very much afraid of the darkness.
First I read the article about the shooting in the FedEx in Atlanta yesterday morning. And I did what I do when faced with the Darkness. It’s automatically what I do for comfort, like my nephew who rubs a corner of his shirt or my niece who sucks her thumb.
I immediately went through a checklist in my mind–how can I be sure not to be caught in this Darkness? How can I keep this from happening to me? How far removed am I from what happened?
I know. Sad, right?
I mean, my heart goes out to those affected. And I want to cry. But then those old anxieties at the unknown and uncertainties kick in and I’m trying to make sure somehow that I won’t be caught out in the dark.
Then later I came across this article.
“After Two Weeks, 234 Nigerian Schoolgirls Are Still Missing: A terrorist group opposed to education is thought to be behind the kidnappings”
What?! Two weeks? How had I missed this story? Was it not getting coverage? Or was I just in my own little world?
Oh the tears. Those poor young women. Seeking an education. A different way of life.
And it hit me–
How is it possible that we, these young women and I, are living on the same planet? This past Saturday while I celebrated with other women who attended our all women’s college and honored our heritage–one that began in 1836–these young women were going through unknown terrors at the hands of their enemies in a land far away.
And yet not so far away really.
It makes me think again, wondering how I wound up here and they wound up there. There are no words, no explanations.
And through my tears, I realized that I am still very much afraid of the Dark. The Darkness in this world that is responsible for things like this happening.
As I went to my old soothing standby to calm my anxiety–my running through my checklist of–can this happen to me? Or, am I safe from this?–I realized it has happened to me. All of these things of the darkness, they are happening to me. To all of us.
I’ve shared this one before, but it came to my mind and heart again this morning.
And the words of Tayari A. Jones, author of Silver Sparrow and other novels, also spoke to me:
This is very important.
I am not sure what we can do to help, but you have to at least care.
234 girls, stolen from their families, all because they went to school.
She is right. We have to care. I may be afraid of the dark, but I cannot continue separating myself from what is happening to cope, to soothe my anxieties. The truth is that the shooting in Atlanta, the young women kidnapped and reportedly being married off to their captors, my friends who are sleeping on the dock to stay out of the terrible storms of the past two days, the children across town who are hungry, the college student who doesn’t have a stable family to go home to over summer break–they all matter and it all affects me. Affects all of us. In this world so filled with darkness, even if we are unsure of what to do, we can begin by caring.
I remember a book I read years ago. I ordered it off my Scholastic book order form. I was allowed to spend a dollar occasionally on those book forms, so when I found a 95 cent book, I was excited. It was Light a Single Candle by Beverly Butler. I remember how much I loved that book. But tonight I’m remembering a quote from the beginning of the book–the first time I ever heard these words (which have been attributed to Adlai Stevenson, Eleanor Roosevelt, W. L. Watkinson and a Chinese proverb):
It is better to light a single candle
than to sit and curse the darkness.
Words that have stayed with me all these years and came home to roost this afternoon.
I am still afraid of the Darkness. After all the years. Of that someTHING or someONE who might be out there full of evil intent.
But I can no longer sit and figure out my six or twelve or twenty degrees of separation to bring me comfort. Life is too short and the world is too small. What is happening right now affects us all, no matter how scary it is.
And so tonight, as I tuck Miss Sophie in for a good night’s rest and I crawl into my bed on clean sheets in my home where the sidewalks seem safe and the birds sing in the trees behind my house, I will cry over a part of me that is broken. The part that is connected to those immediately in the line of the Darkness. The river flows and touches all of us. Their brokenness is a part of me and always will be. I cannot live in peace until we are all at peace.
And for tonight, that’s where I’m at. Tearful, broken, but caring and hopeful.
A veritable paradox.
Love and caring to all. It’s a start.