Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Monsters in the Dark and What I Learned from Them

So a couple of the blogs I commonly read are all doing parenting pieces, apparently there is a blog carnival going on. i dont know what that is but it seems to be something of a 'jump on the bandwagon' style thing, so I figured i'd toss in my 2 cents. Course, my '2 cents' would fill pages an attempt to follow up on the 'will post via cell even if it's short' point' and because I'm feeling philisophical today, I'm going to touch on something my father told me once: "monsters are only scary because they don't have names. You'd be cranky if you didn't have a name too. So if you feel scared by the monsters in the dark just give them names and they won't be scary and will go away." My brother and I had, if I remember correctly, been complaining about having to go out to the wood pile in the dark, a scary thing for a young kid, when my father first dropped this jewel onto my little mind. It had the immediate effect of my brother and I shouting names into the dark while fetching wood. "George, Jill, Martha, Thomas, Amanda!" Any name that popped into our head. We gave those monsters names and by golly, they really did leave us alone. Even as a five year old it's hard to be scared of something you just bestowed the name "bob" upon.
But in the long run I look back at this nugget as one of the wisest and most insightful things ever said to me, by anyone. I have no idea if my Dad meant it as such, I don't know that my brother gleaned any deeper meaning from it. But I know it has followed me all these years. Let me break it down.
First, he acknowledged the monsters. Unlike so many adults my Dad didn't just say 'there is nothing to worry about; there's no such thing as monsters'. Because there are monsters. When you're a kid the monsters under your bed or hiding in moon-cast shadows ARE real. As real as the monsters we come to know as we get older. Because there are monsters. Murderers, rapists, child abusers, serial killers, and Hitlers exist and are just as scary, just as monstrous as the preverbial boogyman. What is more, even before my family came to the Lord, we acknowledged the spirit world and its evil (we just didn't explain it the same light). Demons exist, and I believe it's foolishness to dismiss our innate fear of 'monsters'. My Dad's acknowlegement of the monsters gave us the right and permission to be afraid, a key step to understanding fear is recognizing it's validity.
Second having given us the right to fear instead of mocking it by saying it shouldn't exist he gave us a way to combat it. In a very real way this relates to the old 'give a man a fish and he eats for the day, teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime' proverb. He gave us a way to combat fear, define it. Yes, shouting names into the darkness has a certain obsurdity to it, but the concept doesn't. It is the unknown that terrifies us, the 'nameless dread', the 'unseen terror', that chills our very spirit. The dark is scary precisely because we can't see what's out there. Telling us to name the monsters gave us a vital tool to deal with more than the dark. I knew from a very young age that, once I had defined and known a things nature I could then logically attribute to it only that fear which it deserved, which is usually far less than it would have been given otherwise.
Third, because of one and two, we were able to get over a fear of the dark (and the monsters of childhood) much earlier I think than the average. The dark might be scary for a five year old, but, as mentioned before, 'bob' is not, and, even to a seven year old the obsurdity of shouting names into the dark is nothing but laughable. It is extremely difficult to be afraid andtake seriously that which reduces you to gails of laughter. Yes, I remember occassionally needing to call out some names at 9 and 10, but for the most part by 8ish I had outgrown the child's boogyman. Because, ultimately, that which is capable of being dismissed merely by naming them are not worthy of fear.
Finally it is a lesson that is fully applicable to nearly all fears. When I was younger I had very little fear of the dark, I have very light sensitive eyes so the darkness was always somewhat of a relief, a respite. But I did have a very nearly overwhelming fear of walking towards the light with darkness at my back. Finding myself walking back towards the lit house in the dark would cause my pulse to jump, my breathing to quicken, and my whole body to quiver with the need to RUN! Of course running didn't really do any good, it just got me out of the situation marginally faster. So, annoyed with what I knew to be a pointless fear (if the dark didn't scare me all around why should it be scary just behind me?), I applied my Dad's lesson to it. I sought to understand it, to define it. It was based in a nightmare i'd had years earlier of running through the dark towards a point of light with some slathering monsters chasing me. Hardly unique I know. So I knew where the fear came from, I was afraid of the situation because it reminded me of a nightmare. Well that's hardly something to be afraid of, a remembered nightmare? Why should I be afraid of something just because it reminded me of a dream? Once I had named it I was able to asign the appropriate level of fear to it, namely, none. So I forced myself to walk slowly, breath normally, ignore the fear and demand my body catch up with my mind. It took conscious effort and time but my body did catch up with my mind.
I've had more than one person ask in an annoyed voice "don't you have any irrational fears?" To which, thanks to applying my Dad's advice I can reply: "no, that would be irrational." And why would a rational person put up with that? I have had irrational fears, and some took me years to fully dismiss from my physical body's automatic reaction, but I have never actively allowed an irrational phobia to linger. Nor have I ever allowed myself to panic over something I can't control.I seek to understand a fear or panic, do whatever is logically required or merited given that understanding, and then put it from my mind. All because my Dad thought to tell us to give those creepy darkness monsters names.
In conclusion I hope someday I get to tell my children to shout names at the darkness, and I hope they too take a valuable life lesson from naming the monster under the bed 'bob'. Because knowing that there is no reason for irrational fear or panic and that such can be overcome is definately a lesson I've used more than nearly any other through out my life. And in no doubt it will continue to need to be dusted off the shelve and used again and again as I age and deal with all those irrational parental fears that crop up as my kids age as well.
Love you Dad.


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