“Now hollow fires burn out to black
And lights are guttering low:
Square your shoulders, lift your pack,
And leave your friends and go.
Oh never fear, man, nought’s to dread,
Look not left nor right:
In all the endless road you tread
There’s nothing but the night.”
-A. E. Housman, A Shropshire Lad
I love how Housman tells us not to be afraid of walking out into the black, not because we’ll find a light, but because “in all the endless road you tread / There’s nothing but the night.” Well, isn’t that what we were afraid of? Aren’t we afraid of wandering our whole lives through an empty landscape, alone, beneath the distant stars? Yes, I suppose we are–but Housman says we don’t need to be. The very things we’re afraid of, the things we fear–we can turn and step into them. We can realize that those things are here.
As a child I was terrified of the dark. Sometimes I would pull my blanket up over my face, hiding from the monsters I made up. Then I would imagine a face (it was usually something like Ridley Scott’s alien; I hadn’t seen the movie, so maybe Scott had seen my fears?) staring back at me, just on the other side of the blanket. My fear would build and build and build. I would feel like I just couldn’t pull the blanket down and look. And when, finally, I did, the fear would stop washing over me and become something I could handle. And more: my monster came from my imagination. In the years since then, my imagination has helped me learn and connect, laugh and discover. The fear I felt (and feel) may not be pleasant, it might not be fun, but it is important. When I open the door to allow it in, it’s not as bad as it was behind the blanket. I find that it hurts, but it also helps.
When I stop running and start walking, and the night’s a kind enough place to be.