I’ve always been fascinated by the unknown. I think that’s why I have a simultaneous love affair with and fear of the dark. It draws us closer together, clumped around the fire of technology, religion and innovation of our world that we have built up against the creeping blackness that sits just beyond the edge of the light.
No matter where we are, the dark haunts us. At night, the familiar shadows of our bedrooms change into something new and menacing. That pile of dirty laundry at the foot of your bed? With a simple flick of a light switch it can become a crouching creature from the darkest recesses of your mind. Sounds can change in the dark too. The common creak of a settling joist in the ceiling can become the footstep of some nameless horror as it prowls the hallway outside your bedroom. We become a prisoner of our own imagination.
This is because the dark provides our mind with a blank canvas on which we paint our fears. The best of the tales that we tell to frighten ourselves indulge in this. Darkness births the monster that crawls from a darkened closet in the thick of the night or slips silently from the black waters of some forgotten lake, seeking to prey on the campers who slumber nearby. Being afraid of the dark is something we have all known at one point or another in our lives. Because we cannot see into the darkness, we do not know what it can or cannot contain. Therefore, our mind is unable to reason through whatever horror our imagination conceives.
We even use darkness and its synonyms to describe moods, personalities and acts. If a loved one is depressed, we may say that a person possesses a black mood. The media might refer to a convicted murderer as having committed a dark act. We regularly determine that an unkind person has dark intentions or that he or she has a black mark on her soul. To those that betray us, we mark their hearts as blackened and dead. In all of these examples, we use darkness as a type of barometer that measures others around us, the blacker the act/mood/personality, the worse it is.
It is in darkness that we find the unknown. In it we stumble blindly, relying on our limited intuition. Imagination plugs the gaps that our senses are unable to fill. In the unknown we find unanswerable questions or answers to questions that we do not want answered. The dark is where we face our most meaningful fears because there is no longer light to hold them at bay. Small wonder then that we stress over loved ones, job security, money, loneliness, marital troubles and more as we lie in bed at night, waiting for sleep to take us.
The dark is all we know before we are born and all we see after death. It waits for us every night as we crawl into bed, like a patient lover. Perhaps there is a hint in that; it may be that lying wide-eyed and awake in bed at night reminds us on a very primal level of what awaits us when death comes calling.