I was one of those kids who was afraid of the dark.
Now, when I say “one of those kids” I do pause for a moment and wonder what kid isn’t afraid of the dark.
What adult isn’t still?
I think most of us are afraid of the dark. Even grownups. We just pretend we’re not or drug ourselves or sex ourselves up to believe otherwise. We do something to smother the very innate fear we have of unknown monsters creeping like fog through the slats of our windows or more corporeal, through a locked door with the help of a plastic credit card.
There’s a reason why dark thoughts float to the surface of our mind at night.
I am still afraid of the dark. My bedtime routine? I read a book in bed with the light on until my eyes are practically closed and then I reach for the light and quickly fall to sleep. On the nights when I can’t fall asleep quickly, I’m troubled.
The dark is simply not a place I enjoy being.
It’s possible that not everyone is afraid of the dark.
If you’re one of these people, I’d be curious to hear from you. I wonder if it’s just us: Those of us with overactive imaginations; those of us with stress-related ulcers or migraines; those of us who jump at the sound of a ceramic plate falling to the ground; those of us who are afraid of the shadow we see at the corner of our eye when we’re drying our hair in the mirror. Is there a human being who welcomes the dark? Are you one?
My discomfort with the dark presents a quandary for me at bedtime with my kids. They all want me — still — to lie with them til they fall asleep. If they had their druthers, they’d sleep up against me all night long like spoons. One against the other in a row like a cartoon Tom & Jerry sandwich.
I can’t really blame them for that.
As much as I need space from them, space from people, space to be alone, I hardly ever want it at my own bedtime. This is not to say I enjoy tiny feet in my face at 3 am, but this is to say that I might, in some alternate Blade Runner reality, pay for someone to tickle my back and comb their fingers through my hair til I fell asleep. I might like that. It might be something I’d consider voting for in an election.
I want to know someone is near in the dark. But more important, I want to know someone is there to protect me.
I just want to know I am safe. Even if it’s a false knowing. Because, come on, do our kids really believe deep down we could protect them from ghouls, intruders, burglars?
No. I don’t think so.
They just want someone to whisper softly in their ears as they drift down into a subconscious that will take over for a time. They want the whispers to be true enough:
“You are safe. The world is safe. You are free to drift away. You are safe.”
I’ve been whispering these words to my middle son these past few nights. He had been having trouble sleeping the few nights before and our bedtime routine had become quite anguished, for both him and me. I could continue to fight him; try for the 50th time to “sleep train” him successfully; or I could just acknowledge that my son is like me, afraid of the dark, not just the absence of light in his room but of the dark thoughts I know bubble up for him, too, at bedtime. Thoughts about people he loves. Thoughts about the fragility of life.
Who should have to be alone with such thoughts?
So at the end of an evening meditation I take him through, I speak the words I wish someone would speak to me as dreams carry me away.
“You are safe. The world is safe.”
Perhaps the more I speak them, the more the words will be true.
The less the dark will overpower me…and him…and you.