I believe that all of us, young and old, long to be cradled like children when we are haunted by our deepest fears. The other night I woke suddenly to the sound of my two-year old son screaming. In the midst of a blood-curdling yell, his mouth formed the word “Mommy.” I rushed to his bedside and he clung to me, sobbing the deep, gusty, forlorn sobs of a soul that has touched the abyss and is struggling to find its way back home to the body.
His breaths were moist and ragged. I asked him what had scared him. It was several minutes before he could get the word out:
The mere sound of the word sent him into another spasm of mournful howls.
“Mushrooms?” I asked. “You had a bad dream about mushrooms?”
He nodded and gulped. “Spicy mushrooms, mom – I don’t like them!”
With a small chubby hand he grabbed frantically at his mouth, as if to swipe the monstrous food from his tongue. Then he buried his face in my shirt and sobbed some more while I rocked him back and forth. A few minutes later, he was sound asleep.
Somewhere along the way, we lose the instinct to howl at our fears or cry out for the ones we love when we are afraid in the dark. We forget to cradle one another close with a quiet and steady love that has the power to dissolve these fears. I don’t know which we lose first – the ability to receive or to express this love – but as adults we allow our dread to render us mute. Like travelers lost in a strange country whose language we do not speak, we are disoriented and incoherent in the land of our own demons. Even those who love us stand by and witness our torment, baffled and uncomprehending.
I believe my husband has as many nightmares as my son. I believe that some nights he startles awake and lays rigid in the dark, staring at the ceiling, feeling his heart pound in his chest. A wail of terror and loss is stuck somewhere deep in his throat. He chokes it back down while I sleep soundly next to him. Hard work, money in the bank, and regular exercise cannot save him from his demons – but my gentle embrace could provide the refuge he needs. I believe that some of the deepest fears we adults carry have no more real power over our lives than the spicy mushrooms that torment my two-year old son in the middle of the night.
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