The Stars Were Bright

I used to think I knew what darkness was.  A simple absence of light.  I never was afraid of the dark because, by my definition, it was never really completely dark.  At home, there was always a nightlight, or a radio dial or a television set on, or a street lamp, a passing car, stars or the moon shining through a window.  Even when it stormed, lightning flashed brightly enough to read by.  Or at least I could have read by the flashes if they were frequent enough.  My brothers and I still liked to play on each others’ fears though.

One Christmas Eve, when we were very young and the winds were fierce, we could hear the roof creak and the wind shriek through the maple branches near the upstairs windows.  My brother Paul was scared.  I told him reindeer were on the roof.  They were looking for little boys to eat, and that they had come for him.  Paul was terrified, and while it seems hilarious now, I think I scarred him for life.  To this day, “reindeer on the roof” never fails to elicit a response.  But inside the house, with the lights on and my family all around, I knew we were safe.

When we were a little older, I invented a game called Hide and Seek.  Okay, I didn’t invent the game, but I added a twist.  We played the game in the basement with the lights off.  The four of us soon learned each other’s favorite hiding places so there wasn’t much skill involved in the game.  But the fun was the way we mutated it.  We would sit or stand absolutely still until we could hear someone moving towards us.  Then we would move around to evade the brother searching for us.  The fun began when we started sneaking up on each other, grabbing each other from behind and at the same time saying something scary, like “Boo!”  I was surprised, more than a few times actually, but I gave as good as I got.  And we always had fun, even if it was in a warped kind of way.  So even in the scary darkness of the basement, I learned there really wasn’t anything to fear.

When I was in middle school and started reading Tolkien, I learned that there was another kind of darkness:  evil.  As we all know, evil lurks in shadows, alleys, abandoned buildings, and in downtown Detroit.  But you know, ferns and ficus trees grow in shadows.  Alleys are treasure troves of loose change.  Abandoned buildings shelter the homeless and unwanted puppies and kittens.  And downtown Detroit, alongside the dynamic Detroit River, is the home of the Red Wings, the Tigers, the Lions, the North American Auto Show, the Montreaux Jazz Festival, the International Freedom Festival, great opera and theatre, world class museums, an Imax dome Theatre, the Renaissance Center, and the best coney dogs and bagels anywhere.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve continued to learn more about darkness.  Now I believe there really is no such thing.  And if there were, it can be banished with the flick of a switch.  Or a smile.  If anything, darkness is a state of mind.  Darkness only exists if someone wants to let it exist.  Loneliness is something else entirely.  And that I am afraid of.