Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Why are we afraid of the dark?


 When I was a child, I wasn’t afraid of the dark.  In fact, now and then I’d hide in a closet and find a nook that was dark and quiet, trying to find a little bit of peace and quiet for myself.  This is not to say that I didn’t believe that things lurked out in the darkness, that the world around us wasn’t populated by a thousand invisible enemies who were waiting for us. I did. I simply wasn’t afraid of them.

My earliest dreams could be called nightmares, except that they weren’t frightening per se. There was the one where the skeletons danced and played instruments around my bed and made it levitate only to fly out onto the street ( after going right through the wall); there was the one where my sister and I were in the middle of a volcano with our grandma, trying to find our way back up the top; there was the one where I was running for miles down a spiral staircase with someone, while something chased us (we were separated after he flung me out the window to escape).

Still, in each and every single one of this dreams the emotion that dominated me wasn’t fear, but rather an all consuming need to take what control I had of the situation and escape.  The survival instinct was all that I could focus on, so there was no time for the fear.

Friends and family remarked a few times how taken aback they were by the way I handled my cancer battle. And yet, I don’t know that I found my reaction out of the ordinary. It was, it is, a battle. I have been training for battle since I have memory of self- awareness; most of these dreams took place before I was six, although some ( the tower one in particular) continued well into my teens.

My grandma Anita use to sing us stories. I say stories because they weren’t simply songs, but rather a continuation of the story that connected us to her, to the generations past.  Most were tragic, many strangely haunting. One was about El Coco ( El Cucuy) which I didn’t come across until recently (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coco_%28folklore%29):

Duérmete mi niño, duérmete ya...
Si no viene el Coco y te comerá.
Y si no te come, Te llevara…
Y si no te lleva, quien sabe que hara…

(“Go to sleep, child/ go to sleep now/ for if you don’t the Coco will come and eat you/ and if it doesn’t eat you, it will take you away/ and if it doesn’t take you, who knows what it’ll do…”)

Until yesterday I was fully convinced that she had made it up.

I wouldn’t put it past her; with her dark humour and wit, it was just the thing she’d do. However, it appears that the song is far older than her… ancestral even. It’s a warning about one of the many things that live out in the dark, the many things that can attack us if we stray from the path. I’m reminded of Little Red Riding Hood and the warnings to not stray from that path… what lay in the wilderness around it? What could we do if we did stray and things spun out of our control, in that savage land outside the prescribed, safe routes?

Like I said - I wasn’t afraid of the dark, and I wasn't afraid of straying from the prescribed road to make my own path. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe in monsters - oh, I did!- but I believed in my own capacity to outwit them and survive. I believed that no matter what these spawns of a chaotic universe attacked me with  I would find a way to still make it out alive.  So my life, much like my cancer battle, hasn’t been guided by fear but by faith… largely in me and my ability to find  a way out when things spin out of control.

When my son was born, fear snuck in.  Not about me, but at my ability to protect him.  I had honed my skills over the years to know that  I woulsd find a way to always be okay… but it wasn’t about me anymore.  So I told him there were no monsters, and put night lights in his room. I told him that the  shadows were the hangers in the closet, the baubles in his room. I told him there was nothing beyond this world he saw, so there was nothing to fear.  I told myself that if he couldn’t picture the monsters in the darkness then perhaps they couldn’t see HIM.

Then the cancer came. Then came the day my  son asked me about G-d. How did I know, how could I know? If there is nothing in the darkness, how could there be something in the light? I realized that in hiding the monsters I had hidden the fae, the spirits, our G-d. Because at the end its all about faith, that faith that walks you through the valleys of fear, that lifts you into safely and healing.

So now I don’t tell him there’s no shadows in the wall. I don’t tell him that there are no bugbears in the world, that he walks cloaked in the safety and bliss of ignorance of what may lay beyond. I don’t tell him there’s no Coco, but teach him how to build up  his strength and hone his battle skills… so if the bastard ever comes for him he knows just how to take him down.

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