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What We See in the Dark

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.


  1. At 26 years old, I still have very vivid nightmares that wake me up, startled and shaking with fear in the middle of the night. When I tell my husband about my dreams in the morning, he always tells me how strange it is that I have such vivid nightmares, especially because my husband can’t remember what he dreams about most nights.

    Now as a new mama, I wonder if our little guy will have his mama’s vivid dreams – and nightmares – or his daddy’s dreamless sleep. Thank you for this post!

    Comment by Sara on December 4, 2012 at 12:03 pm

  2. Fear is such a strange thing isn’t it? And it has so many faces. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately too—specifically about how it affects the decisions we make and how we behave, even when we don’t know we’re afraid. I very rarely dream anymore (or at least I don’t remember them), and I often wish I did. I don’t know if it makes a whole lot of sense, but I feel like if I remembered my dreams more often, I’d have some sense that my subconscious (or is it unconscious? I never get that right) hopes and fears were being processed in some way. As it is, I seem to need a lot of waking time to deal with that. Which I guess is why I’ve stuck with yoga so determinedly.

    V’s dream sounds scary! But the idea that fear is just the other side of love really resonates with me. And she’s definitely a little girl with lots of love in her life. Good luck finding a way to explain the relationship between fear and love to her!

    Comment by Sophie on December 4, 2012 at 3:04 pm

  3. Loved reading this – good start to my morning!

    Comment by Aeshna on December 4, 2012 at 9:45 pm

  4. I just had this discussion about fear with a few friends around Halloween. There are many haunted houses around here during the fall. And people love them! I don’t need to pay to be afraid. There are way too many things in this world to be afraid of. Fear exists to enchance love…I love that!! Another great piece!!

    Comment by Chris on December 6, 2012 at 11:43 am

  5. This is just beyond gorgeous and true. Linking to you, and this, this evening :)


    Comment by Aidan Donnelley Rowley on December 7, 2012 at 8:05 am

  6. Fear exits to keep you out of trouble and not do dumb things
    It exists to increase arousal and awareness in case the next step is flight.
    It exists to alert you to future danger.
    The trick is to find the ‘off button’ if:- it is going to happen anyway, it is never realistically going to happen, you have no control over the future events, or the fear is worse than the worst outcome.

    Research (American of course) shows that most people’s greatest fear is public speaking, more than death. Public speaking falls in the ‘not worth worrying about category, as the worst outcome is a terrible muttering speech and your skirt falling about your ankles. Neither event would be life-threatening. That illustrates that most fears are groundless.

    You will have greatly diminished your fear of public speaking by doing it at book launches, radio interviews etc, and may even enjoy it. Fear will restrict one’s choices at best, and be debilitating at worst, . Fear and guilt are best banished from one’s repertoire of emotions.

    I am sure fear does enhance love…as a side effect.

    Your ever rationalist correspondent, Paul

    Comment by Paul Tredgett on December 8, 2012 at 9:49 pm

  7. Ok, this is surreal. I found your blog through Kelle Hampton (whose blog I have been following) – I too have been a grief counselor for much of my MFT career. Whats really ironic though is that I am teaching a lifespan development class at a local university (in southern ca) and I swear I practically said word for word what you did in this entry… 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. Of course I was talking about my own 4 year old dtr, but still! Craziness!

    Comment by Bindhu on February 13, 2013 at 11:16 pm

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