Afraid of the Dark

January 22, 2015

The window—square, with rounded corners—of the airplane was a smoldering, translucent orange, the sun spilling down from the left corner like a slightly burned sauce. Every detail on the window caught the light and shone back at me, the scratches like a complex and abstract drawing. But it was a drawing that told me little, because I had little to tell it. The space of two seats squatted between me and the window. My eyes were puffy and heavy, wanting to sink down into my skull and settle around my nose, the fruit of little sleep. Earphones hid my ears from the world, and my thoughts from myself. In that capacity they were comforting. Because I don’t like to think about the world. I don’t like to think about the world because I don’t like to think about myself. The world demands much, and I am lazy. So I hide. I crawl under the table of reality, afraid of the light and the holy details. Life knocks up against me, and the long, open vowels of the knocks echo in my chest, amongst the hollowness there. It makes me afraid. Life is like a mountain valley, deep in the heart of a strange and magical country. On either side are ridges, the teeth of a yawning mouth. Life in the valley is strange—you never really know if those teeth won’t close on the sky, ripping out a blue, juicy mouthful, leaving you in darkness, scrambling around somewhere near the gullet. The sky can be beautiful at night, but that’s when the wolves start howling in the forests. And the bears—they say the bears eat travelers sometimes. There’s also a lion down at the very end of the valley, where we’re all going. None of us travelers really know what to think about him. Oh, and I nearly forgot, but there are faeries. Of course there are faeries. After a while, the jet returned to the ground, as jets do. I didn’t really notice. I was busy not thinking. Not thinking is hard, but not as hard as thinking itself. So I keep traveling on my pilgrim way down the road, but I don’t know where the road is because it’s dark, and I’m afraid of the dark. But because I’m afraid of the teeth on either side of the valley, and what they might do to the sky, I keep my head well down, down near the beetles and the small insects that eat dead things down on the forest floor. It’s dark down there too, of course, but there are little streaks of light that play through the broken edges of the leaves, and sometimes I can tell what direction they’re coming from if I look closely. Following the light—it sounds so optimistic, when you’re in the dark. Rum thing, isn’t it? I don’t know why I have this need to write about traveling, but I always do it. It’s as if I have to psychologically explain why I would take such a drastic step, uprooting myself from one place and inserting myself into another. I think it’s to explain it to myself more than to others. After all, I like where I was, and I don’t really like where I am, but I’ve convinced myself it’s all for the good, kind of like the pilgrim in the dark who talks about searching for the light as if the word ‘search’ made his darkness less dark. As if talking about it brought some light into the world. And perhaps it does. They call Jesus ‘the Word’, you know. When I arrived at what I now call home, it was raining, and the ground squished under my boots as if all the grains of dirt gave a little gasp and scream when I set my foot down on them. The light on the house shuddered out over the lawn and the wind in the trees gossiped in a harsh whisper. It was all very wet and real. I’m addicted to distractions, is what it is. I don’t like to think about the world because I don’t like what’s inside of myself. And so I distract myself from the world by absorbing myself with the world. The world is its own distraction. Some accuse monks of withdrawing themselves from the world. Of being so heavenly minded they’re no earthly good. In my experience, quite the opposite is true. Only a monk, exiled in his rocky den, far away from anything strong enough to occupy his mind, can really force himself to probe to the heart of the world. That’s the reason for asceticism. I can’t see a tree if I’m in it, my back scraped by its bark and my eyes full of its sticky, leafed twigs. I can only see the tree if I can see the sky also. I just need to see the sky.

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Michael Helvey

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