The other night Veronica woke up from a nightmare around 3AM and called out to me. I stumbled out of my deep sleep and into her room, where I crawled in bed with her.
“What was your dream?” I asked.
“It was a nightmare,” she whispered, holding onto me tightly. “About a kite monster. He was green and he ate children. He tried to eat me.”
I didn’t tell her how scary that actually sounded to me. Instead I pulled her close and promised her that kite monsters aren’t real, that she was safe, and that mommy and daddy would always protect her. For over half an hour we lay in the dark together, but she was still too afraid to fall asleep. Her eyes focused on things in the dark, pulling visions out of the night air, reminding me that once I too looked at the world and didn’t see it for the flat, obvious place it often is. I remembered that I used to see things in the dark too.
Finally I turned on the light, but by then she wanted her daddy, so I stumbled back to bed and to the other girl, while Greg went to V.
I couldn’t sleep though, and for a long time I lay awake in the dark thinking about fear. I’d always thought that fear was a learned thing, but now I wonder if Veronica knows fear in a way that was never learned. It’s hard to imagine that she has anything to be scared of, asleep in her pink bedroom with dolls and toy owls and tutus everywhere, but fear, it seems, is everywhere.
I have anxieties too though. I find myself awake in the middle of the night, fear shifting through me, all too often. I am scared of cancer, of separation, of loss. I am afraid of getting hurt, of hurting others. I am scared of mundane things too, like bills and work and what kind of mildew cleaner to use in the bathroom.
Those are all learned things though. But in a way, I think that they’re the same as kite monsters. Bills and cancer and pain are the opposite of everything that is whole and good in my life, just as green, child-eating monsters are the opposite of pink owls and parents who tuck you in every night.
The conclusion I came to, lying awake in the dark the other night, was that if there were no cancer and there were no kite monsters, if there was nothing at all to fear, then all the good stuff wouldn’t weigh as much. The good stuff simply wouldn’t be as good. Therefore fear is exists to enhance love.
Now I just need to figure out how to explain this to my three-year-old.