Darkness is an interesting “thing”. I hesitate to call it a phenomenon, but in a way it is. It changes the way we perceive the world. Things that appear a certain way during the light of day can transform into something that evokes a completely different emotion or feeling at night. As a child, I loved thunderstorms. My dad and I would often sit on the porch and listen as they rolled by overhead. They elicited an excitement in me that carries on even now in my adult years. That excitement about storms, however, somehow morphed into an irrational fear when a storm would wake me up in the middle of the night. It was only in the darkness, alone in my room, that I would cower under the covers until the storm passed. This fear stayed with me until the first time a storm came in the middle of the night in my dorm room. There was a moment, then, when I debated the usual shelter of hiding totally under my blankets or going back to sleep. Perhaps it was a sign of my adulthood that I kept my head above the blankets and went back to sleep. Whatever that decision meant, it didn’t completely change the power and mystique that darkness had.
It wasn’t until about 6 years later that I realized it wasn’t the thunderstorms that made me fearful, it was the darkness surrounding me that brought about a fear. Never was that more clear than the night I was afraid to sit on the beach.
As a lover of the sand and water I accepted an invitation to sit on the beach and chat with a gorup of friends that I had made while at a week long retreat of sorts, at the beach one summer.
The sun had set long before we decided to cross the road with our chairs in hand. I had been on a beach in darkness before when I was a child shining a flash light into crab holes with my parents, just to see the sand crabs scurry out. As an adult, I was eager to experience a moonlit beach again.
My friends and I positioned our chairs in a semi-circle that faced a blackened ocean. The only lights visible came from a single porch light positioned on the back of a beach house and the lightning that flashed over the water signaling an approaching storm.
It didn’t take long after settling into my chair for the feeling of uneasiness to wash over me. My chair was on the end of the semi-circle leaving a vast empty space on a majority of my sides. The uneasiness quickly turned into fear. I found myself turning around frequently to see what was behind me. Each time I turned there was nothing but blackness behind me.
I don’t know what I thought would be behind me. I spent time each day of the retreat on the beach, there was nothing out of the ordinary there at any time. I had no illusions of creatures sneaking up on me or any other supernatural phenomenon occurring in the depths of darkness, however, the fear gripped me. My companions were amused by my seemingly irrational fear. To try to comfort myself, I switched seats so that I was sitting between two of my friends. It didn’t alleviate the anxiety I continued to feel.
The storm over the water eventually came ashore, forcing us to end our beach chat. I was relieved to finally be leaving and returning to the safety of my room at the retreat center.
Even now, several years after that experience, I can’t explain the reason for the strong sense of fright that I felt that evening on the beach. I am of the age now that I may soon have to be the brave one; battling closet monsters and calming other nighttime fears for the children I will have one day. Until then, I will simply remain a captive of the darkness and the uncertainty it brings to my soul.