Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Being Afraid of the Dark

"For just as children tremble and fear all
In the viewless dark, so even we at times
Dread in the light so many things that be
No whit more fearsome than what children feign,
Shuddering, will be upon them in the dark.
This terror then, this darkness of the mind,
Not sunrise with its flaring spokes of light,
Nor glittering arrows of morning can disperse,
But only Nature's aspect and her law."
 - Lucretius,  On the Nature of Things Book VI

I was never afraid of the dark. I especially love the twilight. When I was a child, I heard that the some native ceremonies that had to begin at precisely dawn would begin when the officiating person could distinguish a red item from a group of other dark colored items. Somewhere, I was also told that reason fire trucks were red is that red is the first color you can distinguish at dawn and the last you can identify as it gets dark. Even as a kid, I was never sure why this was important, as it seems to me you should be able to see the shape of a fire truck with flashing red lights and a blaring siren regardless of its color. My childhood suspicions about the red fire truck theory were borne out when, as an adult, I observed that some fire trucks are painted a particularly ugly acid green instead of red.

The validity of either of these factoids is questionable however, because I also clearly remember believing when my big brother told me that if I used the toilet when there was an un-flushed cigarette in the bowl, my bottom would turn yellow. Thankfully, my parents stopped smoking – or at least stopped using the toilet as an ashtray – before that happened.

Instead of fearing that there were monsters in my bedroom closet who would creep out after the lights went out, I worried instead about whether I’d be able to see a red fire truck if I was up late, or whether I would remember to check the toilet before using it. I do remember not liking to get a drink of water in the dark bathroom at night because there might be a spider hiding inside the glass. I still maintain that worrying about spiders in the drinking glass is more sensible than fearsome: and still rinse the glass out in the viewless dark before refilling it to get a drink of water.

These days, while I lie away in the sleepless dark I worry about different things.  The glittering arrows of morning don’t disperse my gloomy thoughts about unfinished chores, leftovers spoiling in the refrigerator, the litter box I should have changed yesterday, or my dentist appointment later this week. I suppose the essence of maturity is that we replace our childhood fears with equally scary but more practical stuff as we age. Or maybe we just learn that there is more to fear in the light than in the dark.

1 comment:

walk2write said...

Big brothers are great for scaring the wits out of younger siblings. Mine used to tell me that earwigs would crawl in my ear at night while I was asleep and eat my brains. Now we have another, even Bigger Brother scaring us by doing who knows what with our personal information, pulling the retirement rug out from under us, and dumping us into yet another war. Sheesh! I'd rather contend with earwigs.