March 14, 2016
Befriending the Darkness
“The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.”
— Robert Frost
I have nightlights in most of the outlets in my home.
My favorite is a tiny bulb shrouded by a large scallop shell, which casts a comforting, pink glow in my bathroom. Weeks before Daylight Savings begins in November, you’ll find me scurrying around my house, setting out rechargeable candles on nearly every surface and checking batteries. During the dark months of winter, nothing brings me more contentment than seeing displays of luminous holiday lights, twinkling in the frigid evening wind.
For as long as I can remember, I have had an aversion to darkness. Yes, nearly all children at one time or another have a fear of the dark, imagining monsters under their beds, but it rarely continues into adulthood. I still to this day see the shadows in my bedroom as foes and adversaries, at the ready to reach out and jolt me out of a peaceful slumber.
There have been a few instances in my life in which I made friends with the darkness, though they have been few and far between. When I was 12, I became enamored with astronomy. Although I was afraid, I spent many a night alone with my telescope, drawing constellations in my little notebook and waiting with bated breath to catch a glimpse of a shooting star. The piercings of light in the night sky brought me comfort, even when I’d hear strange sounds, like the haunting, lonely howl of a coyote off in the distance.
My general ill will toward the darkness has only become amplified in recent years. Each winter, I struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder, a depression brought on by a lack of sunlight. Tear-filled nights can leave me cursing the darkness, wishing and hoping for brighter days. Sometimes, I feel like a tiny plant that needs to be nourished by sunlight and goes dormant in the dark.
But then, something magical happened recently. Much like the evenings spent with my telescope, I befriended the darkness once again during a candlelight hike in a deep, dim forest.
It sounded magical. I looked at pictures of other candlelight hikes, and I saw forests bathed in candlelight, fully illuminating the path. But just in case, I wore my sturdiest pair of boots, anticipating roots and rocks hiding in the darkness, waiting for me to trip and fall.
My husband and I arrived at the trailhead at a nearby state park. I squinted to make out the candles flickering in the distance. The woods looked dark. Incredibly dark. Nothing like the pictures I had seen. Save a few flames I could see here and there, I felt as if I wasn’t walking into the woods, but into the mouth of a pitch black cave instead. Tiny candles appeared only every 20 feet or so. The fear kicked in.
Although there were others hiking the trail alongside us, I wasn’t comforted, and my thoughts began to race. What if there are wild animals out here? What if I trip and break my ankle? What if? What if? What if?
My breath became short. My palms started to sweat. The old childhood fears crept in. Yes, my husband was with me, but what protection could he offer against the enemies lurking in the darkness?
And then there was this shooting star. It streaked across the sky and lit up the entire forest with its light. And I felt 12 again. Not as the child or even adult who had to sleep with a nightlight, but like the child who used to gaze in wonder at the night sky, humbled by its magic.
The version of myself who embraced the enchantment of darkness. Stars. Owls. Nothing but the sounds of footsteps and wind.
As I continued into the forest, I looked at the silhouettes of the bare trees, struck against a sky dotted with points of light. At that moment, I didn’t miss the sun. I welcomed the star-strewn sky and all of its dark splendor into my heart.
I felt at peace in the woods, lovely, dark, and deep.