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Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Afraid Of The Dark?

My sister, Liz, who is sixty years old, admits to being afraid of the dark. Come to think of it, she doesn't just admit it, she almost brags about it. I think I had suspected this of her for many years, but only realized it when we went on a vacation to South Dakota together several years ago. We took a few days' trip to Deadwood to celebrate the one-hundredth anniversary of Gram's birth. Since hotel rooms in the downtown area were far more expensive, we stayed at a simple and very nice family-operated motel outside of the center of town. There were woods across the highway, and the back of the building was very close to a hill. It was quiet and peaceful. And at night, it was really, really dark.

Those of us who live in cities and suburbs have grown accustomed to nights that are not fully dark. There always seems to be some sort of ambient light, whether it is from streetlights or neighbors' porch lights, or security lighting in apartment complexes. So when we stayed at this remote motel and turned out the lights at night, we were reminded of how dark darkness can be. The closest building of any kind was the equivalent of several blocks away. When the lights were out, the darkness was complete. My only concern was that I might trip over something trying to find the bathroom in the night. I asked Liz if she would mind me turning on the bathroom light at night and closing that door most of the way, so that we could find our way to the bathroom safely. She didn't object at all. In fact, she eventually admitted to being relieved when I asked, because, as she said, she was afraid of the dark.

I've given a good deal of thought to the subject of people being afraid of the dark. Darkness and nighttime are not inherently evil. What is it that makes people so afraid of it? My theory is that even though people may claim to be afraid of the dark, they really are not. I remember going camping once and having to get up in the middle of the night to find the outhouse in the dark. The mountains of Colorado, like any remote area, get incredibly dark after the sun goes down. I was cursing my bladder as I slowly crept through the darkness with only a wimpy flashlight to light my way. Was I afraid of the dark? No. But I was pretty nervous that I might lose my way in that total, inky darkness. And I will freely admit that the idea of being lost in the mountains with no food or water or warm coverings is pretty awful and scary to me.

I have walked the streets of New York City, Paris, and Budapest after dark, and not felt terror, just vigilance to be aware of my surroundings. Am I the bravest or most foolhardy person in the world? Hardly. Like I said, the night and darkness are not evil, and I am not entirely sure that we really fear it. What we are afraid of is that we can't see. And who knows what it is that we might not be seeing? If you are walking down a street in the middle of the day and there's a creepy, serial-killer-looking person lounging in a doorway or behind a telephone pole, you will be able to spot them. You can try to do something to make your situation safer, like cross the street or start walking faster. But if you walk outside into total darkness, you have lost the use of one of your senses. The fertile ground of your imagination starts to sprout insidious, terror-filled thoughts, sometimes just subconsciously. Who knows whether there is an unsavory person lurking just a few feet away? Or maybe a wild animal...a very large one, one that might find you very tasty?

Heck, even if someone isn't worried about the murderers or zombies or killer bears that they might not be able to see, there's plenty of other potential problems. The uneven sidewalk that you see clearly in the daylight can easily trip you up when you can't see it at night. A midnight walk in the woods could be a midnight walk into a frigid, fast-moving stream. So, if you consider yourself one of the people who are afraid of the dark, that's okay, it's part of your experiences, and part of who you are. Or if you're more like me, and aren't afraid of the dark, just the crazies or fall-causing uneven sidewalks that you can't see lurking in your path because it is dark, that's okay, too. Don't curse the darkness. After all, flashlights are so much smaller and brighter nowadays than they used to be!