Thursday, April 21, 2011

Afraid of the Dark

I was roughly 10 minutes from home when I got the call.  A panicked, quiet voice barely breaking through from the other side caused my heart to skip a beat and my thoughts to swirl.  

“Mom....I’m scared.  (brief pause)  I think there is someone in the house.”

“Okay...What do you mean, honey?” I asked, hoping not to lead the response in any particular direction.

I figured I would have received this call at least once by now, given that my eldest is having more frequent home alone time.  Nevertheless, it was still a call I hated to get.  Not because I actually was concerned that anything was going on, but because I knew the feeling that he was experiencing.   

I vividly remember some of the moments I spent on my own before my parents came home after work.  I recall once locking myself in my bathroom and calling my friend when I heard something unfamiliar.  (As if a burglar could not break through my hollow bathroom door.)   I was hoping my friend could talk me out of my momentary fear that someone must have made the noise I just heard.  And, I was hoping she could reassure me that everything was just fine.  It worked.  And, no, there were no cell phones way back then (I don’t even think we had a cordless).  But, for some unknown, but brilliant, reason, we had a phone outlet in our bathroom.  Maybe the previous owners also thought the bathroom was a good place to hideout or conduct important business.

My son’s call also brought to mind how I would run from light switch to light switch in order to get from upstairs to downstairs, or vice versa, at night.  As my energy conserving penny saving parents did not want us to leave un-necessary lights on, the unlit hallways appeared to grow longer as I contemplated how I would get from point A to point B without being consumed by the dark.  So, like any clever dark-fearing-girl might do, I ran from light switch to light switch, often singing or talking out loud along the way, flipping the switches on or off according to the direction I was headed.  Looking back, I'm sure this was quite the spectacle.

Why is it that so many of us are afraid of the dark?  Why is it that we can make the leap from a ticking sound of an expanding heat duct to ‘someone must hiding under the stairs’ so quickly?  Is it simply the fear of the unknown or something else?

While I am sure there are many different pieces to the fear puzzle, I am convinced that part of fear is related to aloneness or separation from those we care about.  Why do I think this?  Because of the way my son handled his fear and the ways I often handle my fears.   When my son thought someone might be in the house, he almost immediately called me – for guidance, for support, for help, and, ultimately, for connection.  My hunch is that he knew no one was there, but he longed for reassurance and relationship.   When I was afraid as a kid, cowering in the bathroom, I called out to a friend for the same reasons.  I knew she couldn’t come help me (we were far too young to drive), but I knew she would listen and share connection.  Talking and singing out loud in my light switch running was, in addition to being a little silly, a subconscious attempt to communicate with feel not so alone in the dark.  Even today, when I have a moment of fear or anxiety, my desire is to reach out and connect to someone that I know cares about me.  

We all long for connection.  For relationship.  For intimacy.  It’s the way we were designed.  From the outset of the world, we were made to be in relationship - first with God and then with others.  The Genesis creation story shouts this out.  After all the amazing work God did in creating the stuff of the world...all of which He called “good”...He desired something more.  So, before He decided to rest, God made people in His own image.  In the garden, he created Adam to walk with, talk with, invest in, and share relationship with uniquely...and it was "very good".  It was so good that God decided to allow Adam the pleasure of this relationship with Eve as well.  And so it began...our desire to connect with others was created within us.  And, this relational desire will always be a part of who we are as human beings.

When I got home a few minutes after receiving the call, my son sat alone on his bed, even though his brother had come home in the meantime.  His little brother, though he tried, could not offer him the kind of connection that he needed in the moment.  It didn’t take long, however, to talk him down from his level of heightened alarm and fear.   We determined that the wind was causing the garage door to make an unusual noise.  I was glad that a combination of rational thinking and loving relationship moved him beyond being stuck. 

I half expected the call to come again yesterday or today.  It didn’t.  But, if it did, I hope I would have been ready to listen, to reason, and, most importantly, to simply be in relationship with my son. 

Afraid of the Dark - Shel Silverstein

I’m Reginald Clark, I’m afraid of the dark
So I always insist on the light on,
And my teddy to hug,
And my blanket to rub,
And my thumby to suck or to bite on.
And three bedtime stories,
Two trips to the toilet,
Two prayers, and five hugs from my mommy,
I’m Reginald Clark, I’m afraid from the dark
So please do not close this book on me.


  1. Thanks for sharing this, Kathy! It made me think of my sister, who had called me, terrified, from her house shortly after she moved out on her own. "Jenni, there's someone in the house! He's in the bathroom, and he's WASHING HIS HANDS!" Of course, my rational sister knew that made no sense, but she wanted to hear it from someone else. I'll have to remind her of that later tonight when I meet her for coffee :)

  2. Hearing my voice out loud, alone, always made me feel more vulnerable when alone. I used the dark as my cover and my ally when I was afraid. After all, I knew my house better than the noise-maker! Loved reading this, Kathy. More wonderful insights shared.


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