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Courage against the darkness

Sep 21, 2017 By Clair McFarland

Tomorrow's the equinox, and that means fall.

Fall into flannel shirts, viscous cider, flexing breezes, and long, dark nights.

Late Monday we could feel the world sloping, so we rolled out the door and once around the neighborhood for a good, tumbling whiff. It smelled like fall. We leaned into it with crazed, conversational grins.

I was drowning in a hoodie that I'd stolen remorselessly from The Husband. Flappy overhangs of sleeve swung from me as arm extensions, and I flung them around all four boys for an unusually large hug.

"Oh, my boys. It's dark out here!"

The night had seeped in. I closed my eyes to feel it, and when I opened them - "hey! Where did everybody go?"

I guess the boys took off.

"Where are you?" I called.

"We're hiding!" said a voice from inside my house.

"But why?"

"We're afraid of the dark!" They slammed the door against the dark.

This hadn't been an issue in the spring. In fact, during springtime, I loved to bring them out after dark and show them the stars, the satellites, the airplanes, and, most bewitching of all, the looming signs of nearby businesses.

"So pretty," they'd say in gaping stupor.

"Yes. Ahem. The grocery store is super majestic," I'd say, from beneath the all-knowing electronic glow of advertising block letters.

All summer long, I waited for stargazing conditions to return so we could continue our quests through the darkness: The evening had to be warm, but far enough into the year to reach dark a few minutes before carnivorous bedtime arrived and swallowed our personalities.

On Monday, the Northern Hemisphere was ready - but the boys were not.

I wondered what had changed over the summer, why the stars were white and the stargazers were yellow, and where were they hiding, anyway?

Back inside the house, the sounds of nervous breaths through stuffy little noses helped me search. I found one boy under the bed, one in the towel cupboard, and one in the bookshelf with John Steinbeck, where no character ever wants to be.

There was also one boy sitting tranquilly at the kitchen table, forging an infinity-dollar-bill for the purchase of a sun-sized night-light and some ice cream.

Little did he know, he'd later give this brilliant specimen of forged currency to his extortionist younger brother, who was selling glow-in-the-dark, stick-on tattoos for five-bazillion dollars apiece.

"Boys! What are you all doing? I thought you loved the dark!"

"It's not just the dark, Mom," - extra gravity on that last word - "it's what's IN the dark."

"And what do you suppose is in the dark?"

"Monstos!" said the person hiding under the bed.

"Monsters aren't real, you silly goose," and I flapped my dangling, fabric tentacles around to emphasize the normalcy of our home.

"Bad guys!" said the towel cupboard.

"Nah! You know daddy keeps us safe. Everything's all right. Even in the dark."

"John Steinbeck!" yelled the bookshelf.

Just kidding.

"My loves. Nothing is actually IN the dark. Darkness is just the absence of light. It is a weightless, immeasurable void too empty and nonexistent even for the words I'm using to describe it."

"THIS ISN'T HELPING!"

"Sorry. The point is... the dark isn't some evil thing. It's just where light is not."

"Monstos!"

"Bad Guys!"

"Immeasurable voids!"

Sigh. I guess children can't be fearless forever.

I hugged them again. And I explained to them that the darkness is beautiful because, within it, you can see tiny stars, but that those stars are actually immense, gas-belching giants, subdued into breathtaking arrangements across staggering distances in the rippling black fabric of time and space.

"We go out into the dark because of how amazing that is. You can't see anything like it during the daytime."

"I still don't wike it."

"That's OK. I know you'll like it again someday. And I love you, and I want you to know that I only lead you through the darkness so that you can find the stars yourself and enjoy them - in a way that makes you forget all about your fears."

"OK, Mommy."

Goodnight.

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2017-10-18