Who’s Afraid of the Dark?

Virginia WoOLF isn’t the only one who’s ever asked that question. People everywhere and at every age have wrestled with this question at different times in their life. Are you afraid of the darkness—whether it be outside, in the car, in a basement, or entering a dark room of your own home?

How many of us are willing to admit that darkness can be scary, at least at some point in our lives? When I was a young child, I’d have to go down into our basement to do laundry. It meant descending 20 steps into an obstacle course of toys, shoes and junk. I would come down those steps "armed" with my laundry basket full of dirty clothes. I knew that I could throw my basket at whatever enemy would jump out from the shadows allowing me to get away. Each time I entered the basement, I was convinced that there would be gigantic, venomous spiders, rabid rats, or malicious demons just waiting for me to drop my guard long enough to strike. This went on for years and years.

Decades later, I had the chance to return to my childhood home, to go into the basement, to descend into the darkness, to face my fears once again, only this time without my trusty laundry basket. For a split second, as each step brought me closer to the deepest darkness, I could feel the familiar panic arise in my chest. That panic was accompanied by haunting whispers and awful mutterings. This time, I paused on that stair step. This time I could identify the origin of my fears. This time I would choose to enter the darkness, but leave all the boogeymen, rabid rats and venomous spiders behind. Finally, I realized I was bigger than they were—ready to conquer whatever thoughts were racing. At long last, I was able to master my fear and it felt terrific!  

As I’ve gotten older and faced different kinds of life experiences, I’ve had to face what the darkness involves. Instinctively, I have known that the darkness is not the “boogey man.” The darkness doesn’t reach out and hurt me. It simply exists. Darkness doesn’t have a stake in creating our fear. I have learned to see different kinds of darkness and, as situations evolve, I’ve learned to walk in the dark with more and more confidence. The darkness is only that: darkness.  

Last Fall, I received a fabulous book gifted from my stepmom. It’s entitled Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor.  She addresses numerous perspectives about the symbolism of darkness, the kinds of darkness—and how to cultivate it. Her accounts of childhood to adulthood are endearing, yet poignant. It's an excellent book!

She writes, “Darkness is shorthand for anything that scares me—either because 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 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, I ask you again… are you really afraid of the dark, or maybe it’s something else?

Photo © Darkday