Befriending the Night

What a solution.  An apartment in Vancouver and a house on a Pacific isle.

My husband, John, settled into the apartment, worked at the University of  British Columbia and came home if I didn’t join him in Vancouver.  Theater, lectures, musical concerts and good friends determined which home we chose during weekends.

The Dawn Took so Long to Come.

Perfection came at a price.  An island with no streetlights and a house with no close neighbours gave me a case of nighttime jitters.  I’d go to bed early and sleep until the middle of the night.  I’d lie awake, praying, frozen with fear until 7:00 a.m.  My hearing developed so acutely I heard my cat walking to the bedroom down a carpeted hallway.

If the Creator was offering comfort, I was too distraught to know.

When I described my fright to my gentle husband, he became upset over not being able to fix it.  His only comfort was, “This is a small island.  Who would be stupid enough to do anything illegal?  They’d never get away with it even if they had a power boat.  The Coast Guard would be right there.”*

Four months into my night terrors, a well known recording artist was jogging at 6:30 a.m.  She was grabbed by a man on a bicycle, raped and left on the side of the small road.

No radio station, no television coverage, and one weekly local newspaper meant communication was complicated.  The RCMP could not find the rapist.  All the ferries had been alerted, no strange boats were around, and the victim could only offer a description that could have pointed to any one of many men.

To alleviate some of the fear, two Wen Do instructors were hired from Vancouver.  Wen Do means “Woman’s Path” and the weekend training dealt with defensive moves which women could use for “several typical types of attacks.”  At the end of the sessions, we positioned our hands in a fashion that would break a collar bone while using our foot to kick knee caps out of place.   How did we know we could do this?  We smashed pieces of wood in two and were given a white belt as a testament of our success.

Anyone daft enough to wear the white belt would be entertaining invitations to prove the training effective.

And The Night Closes In

In the midst of my rising fear level, our marriage lost its glue.  Weekend efforts to be together became sporadic.  Our careers overrode dreams of raising a family so any priorities for cementing matrimonial cracks became less and less important.

John took solace in the fact that a friend gave me his phone number so I could call, night or day, if I was frightened.  Little did I know that would be as good as tossing a rump roast in a river full of piranha.   The marriage was the rump roast and I was willing to tease the piranha.

Atypically, we argued over who would take the chattels.  Neither of us wanted to be burdened with belongings.  In retrospect, I believe we sincerely loved each other, but just couldn’t see that the circumstances could be overcome with time, love and patience.  So we let go.

My fear of being alone at night was not placated by a white belt.

Talking about this amongst a group of friends, Terry, a man best described as a cowboy-cum-real estate wheeler-dealing vegetarian on a Taoist path, spoke up, “I’ll teach you how to love the dark.”

The planet stopped spinning.  No one breathed.  I turned to him and, in a low, gutteral growl, said, “This is not a frickin’ joke, Terry.”

“I know it’s not a joke,” he said tenderly.  “No one needs to live with that kind of fear.  I’ll work with you and I promise you’ll no longer be afraid of the dark.”  He spoke without a hint of arrogance.

“You serious?”

“I am.  You come to my place once it’s dark – each night for a week.  We’ll see if that’s enough.”

“I’ll bring a flashlight.”

“Oh…you can if you want.  But you won’t need it.”

Gambling that this man actually parlayed sincerity, I drove to his place the first warm, cloudy, summer night.  Terry stepped out of his tiny home and greeted me in tones that belied his keenness to prove this miracle to me.

“We’re going to walk down this old road,” he pointed past his abode.  “We’ll each have our own track.  I’ll be right beside you if you feel scared. But first…,”  he walked to his doorway and switched off the single light coming from his home.  “First, let’s just stand here and you tell me what you see.”

“Well, I know you’re here…”

“Do you see me?”

“Of course I see you.  Not details, but I certainly see you.”

“Good.  What else do you see?”

“Stars, clouds, trees, cars, your home, the road into your place…. But I can hardly see the track you want me to follow!”

“Ready to go?”

“Okay…but if I fall on my face, I’ll be practicing some Wen Do on you!”  Incredibly, this was fun.

We began our journey.  Terry would pause when I kicked a rock, tripped over some obstruction, stepped into a rut or stopped to look around.

“Gads, Terry!  You’re like a ballerina compared to me.”

“That’s usually a later lesson!  Tonight, you only have to experience.  Let yourself discover whatever captures your attention.  Let’s not talk.  Let’s experience this walk with our senses.”

My eyes grew accustomed to a dim light the night provides.  Sounds held and magnified by darkness commanded attention.  Branches rubbed against one another in the wind.  Leaves fluttered in the breezes.  Something moved in the grass to my right.  Terry’s presence offered reassurance.  Cool night air refreshed my lungs.  Wind blended strands of hair with cobwebs until I no longer cared.  An owl hooted as bats silently whizzed by overhead.

Clouds cleared and a moon sliver spotlit our space.  Stars seemed to explode into existence.  Life was everywhere.  Abundant, different, mysterious, gentle night life enveloped me.  The Creation of All overwhelmed as tears exposed happiness and goosebumps announced joy.

A distant house, ablaze with light, contained no curtains and no drawn blinds.  Movement from within initiated memories of the nights I had cowered inside my house, imprisioned by fear.  Overcome with compassion in my forgiveness and with wonder over the beauty of the night, a new power rose from within.  Trust.  Suddenly I understood that I was a part of the whole – day or night.  Quiet, in that spot, with a gentle teacher, I allowed myself a new safety.

It’s called night.

* Now thirty one years later, the rapist has never been found.

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46 thoughts on “Befriending the Night

  1. It is sad that the night cannot be the solice that it has provided for so many through the ages….this is a wonderful enlightening post…thanks for your sharing.

    • There have been times since, Nancy, when I’ve been comforted by the fact I have a can of hornet spray near by. Sometimes we know too much about people while living on a tiny island…

    • Yes, Sally. I’m going to share the story with him. I suspect he’ll just grin at me and say very, very little. He’s true to his Path from my knowledge of Taoism.

  2. Great post Amy. What an incredible way to learn not to be frightened of the dark. I’m also scared of the dark and and kept putting off any suggestions of going on a moonlight hike which are very popular here.
    When we finally went with 6 friends last year, Mr F was kind to me and held my hand when I was nervous, and happy me at the end of the 3 hour hike when I realized i wasn’t scared anymore, and now j’adore the chance of walking with the moon.
    But I’m talking about a full moon hike. You were hiking without the moon and without your kind friend Terry holding your hand. What a great lesson – thank you for sharing it.

    • Good for you, Rosie – and for Mr. F. to be so supportive. It is unnecessary that anyone live with constant fear. Our good health relies upon our being free. I would love a moonlight walk with friends. Wonder if anyone is doing that here. I’ll have to check!

  3. Amy, this is such a compelling story. As I was reading this I had a strong impression that I am to ask you to put your accounts and teaching into a book form. This is what came to me and so I’m passing it on.

    And how sad to think that people like that rapist can lead us down a path of fear. Thank God for the Terry’s of the world.

    • Oh, Victoria, when I think of putting my writing into a book form, I end up with a knot of dread. I have not shut the door, but I have not come up with a concept or a wrap that gives me a shot of “Yes!” in terms of moving on. I’m interested in what Jamie is now presenting on her Musing By Moonlight. I have been told, by the Guides of others (not mine) that my work is to be shared on a scale bigger than my little blog. Perhaps that causes me to sit back a bit. I don’t feel a sense of impending deadlines or demands.

      Terry and his wife live a short block from me so I see him regularly. He loves being very impish and full of beans, but always his goodness shines.

  4. Hi Amy .. lovely story of hope, which turned to just that and peace at being alone. I wonder what difference running makes .. more noise, more concentration on actually running and not tripping .. can the fear be dissolved … as obviously that poor woman needed all those years ago. (It wasn’t you …?).

    Thanks .. Amy .. I remember this example of living life .. Hilary

    • No, Hilary, it was not me! This woman is fairly well known as a singer in Western Canada, but she moved from our island. I feel compassion for her that the culprit was never caught. Can you imagine going on stage and always wondering…?

  5. Hi Amy .. no and I couldn’t imagine the whole thing .. I wonder if he’d recognise her, if he was there .. if he’d moved on, if he realised what he’d done … etc etc ..

    Thankfully she has put that part behind and has some reasonable success in her creative career ..

    No – I’d hate that to happen, and I’m amazed what people can pull through .. maybe not healed, maybe not accept .. but living again.

    Thanks glad to know she’s ok at least .. Hilary

  6. Hi souldipper,
    A wonderful story, and how nice that Terry took the time to help you out, it certainly is nice to know there are people like this out in the world.

  7. I love the night, the solace and peace it provides, it is also a great relief for my poor eyes that suffer in bright sunlight. I’m a bit cat-like in this respect and the best night I had was when me and a friend, walked across Hampstead Heath in pitch blackness (except for the distant glittering lights of London) and she could not see much, but I could, and I felt a sense of wonder. However, as a little girl, I was petrified of the dark and I understand why many do not feel safe in it.

  8. You know how I felt that night alone in the forest, so I completely relate to your fear of darkness. Terry was a wonderful friend and guide for you. I’m thrilled that you found joy in the night. I found it too eventually, with changes in my spiritual practice. After four decades of living in fear, it has just slipped away.

    • Ruth, I may have kept the influence of my spiritual practice a little too much “in the dark” in this post. As it permeates every part of life, I have to make a point of remembering to state the impact and influence of my path. I thrilled over your fabulous post about staying alone in the forest as a young college student. Imagine your college being forward enough to offer the experience as a credit!

  9. What an entrancing story, Amy. It’s sad to read of the unravelling of your marriage, but wonderful to end with hope in the heart. I was fortunate to befriend night in a similar way, while spending two years on a farm – with a long walk to my cottage in the dark and nothing but the moon and stars to light the way (instinct and memory on cloudy nights). As you so beautifully describe, there’s treasure in that 🙂

    • People’s responses regarding their relationship with the night is fascinating, indeed. Inevitably, it brings out a facet of our lives that is precious. When I was a little girl, living in the country, I always had a dog with me. Whether justified or not, I felt safe – even if only as a warning device.

  10. What a wonderful write up, this is. I used to be terribly scared of the dark too and it is only recently that I find comfort in it instead of fear. It takes a while to understand that the shadows that paralyse us are inside our own minds . Once exorcised , we can walk iwith the gentle moonbeams for company, as you did that night…in trust and fearlessness. Thanks Amy, for sharing this:-)

    • Nadira, I just visited your site and am so grateful you introduced yourself. The way you describe yourself on “About” is very, very familiar! 😀 I hope one day to hear how you overcame your fear of the dark. Thanks for giving me a chance to discover you.

  11. I thought about this for quite some time, Amy. How terribly debilitating your fear was of the night and how caring Terry was to offer to “walk with you”.
    Like Charles, I have a healthy fear of wandering some places at night and I am rather a night owl, preferring it to the blinding light of day. I would like to go alone to the pond and see the light of the moon reflecting off the surface of it while all else is still. I would like to walk through the woods listening to night sounds and not fear for my safety. These days, I only enjoy it from the safety of my patio and my ears search for those quiet sounds of an occasional night bird, watch for my big fat toad under the rose bushes and enjoy the play of the neighbor’s light along my picket fence and the dance it creates on the leaves of the trees until it fades to grays and then blackness. It is truly a shame that we can not trust beyond our own space to travel alone at night without the safety of a locked car, which is not enjoying the night. Great story.

    • Leslie, your beautiful and soulful comment is giving me huge pause! It feels as though I need to respond it with another post. But I will say this- you are not only good with the paintbrush, dear woman! Your words here are poetic…

  12. Oh my goodness!

    Great post.

    Years ago we camped in a tent in the Transkei, after some scary campfire stories, I couldn’t sleep I was so afraid. That night it was pitch dark and the Cicadas made such a racket, one couldn’t hear anyone approach. Hubby slept through it all, the next day he said as long as the Cicadas made a noise, it meant that we were alone.

    • There you were, lying awake so responsibly, protecting all others! Your Hubby is bang on, Tok. Watching and listening to nature, we learn important warning habits. However, as a kid, my dog – who tore around the bush smelling everything – scared me many more times than wildlife. I was never threatened by a wild animal though I knew they were watching me. I guess no one was hungry! 😀

      My most scary moment with wildlife was in 1995 when I was hiking along the Clearwater River in B.C. A bear lost it’s balance and fell out of a tree! The cracking and slashing of limbs and the resultant THUD was such a surprise and so strange that I nearly had to change my trousers! 😀 Fortunately the bear was humiliated enough that it took off in the opposite direction from us.

  13. You express it so well, Amy. The fear, the anxiety, the slow drifting away from your then-husband, the getting over it and the fear of the dark. Beautiful. Everything about this post is beautiful, because it took me on a gentle ride on the kind of waves I normally avoid.

    The rapist wasn’t found… But I sure do hope that there haven’t been any more cases since.

    • It’s such a delightto have your visit, Priya. Unless unreported, thank goodness there has been none since. Today, with cell phones, facebook, etc., I could not see anyone getting away with such a travesty.

  14. Wow. This gave me goosebumps! I used to love the night. Back when I was young and I suppose naive, I would walk my dog at night and we’d go down to a field and look at the stars together. It was pure magic. Now I’m too afraid to fall asleep without a night light on. Hopefully someday I will learn to let go and trust and breathe and know it will be okay again. This post give me hope. Thank goodness you have friends like Terry.

    • I hope you will find a time and place in which to feel free again, Miraclemama. It’s a third of our lives. I resented giving up such a chunk of my existence to fear! But each person has to respect their comfort zone.

  15. Pingback: Darkness « Dragonfly House

  16. What an amazing transformation through the help of a good hearted imp.
    I’m thinking how graced you are to still have him in your company. That’s very cool.

    People wish I had a bit more fear, sometimes. I would suppose ‘common sense’ would tell you not to be walking in some places at some times of the day/night. I tended to ignore or maybe I just lacked (?) that ‘common sense’ and I’ve had the most wonderful adventures and met the most awesome people. Good experiences–a couple interesting ones that I’m not sure I’d want to repeat, lessons learned in those circumstances–but not necessarily shoved into the next set and overgeneralized.

    I don’t much like fear–though I’ve come to know some fears are healthy, reasonable things to keep you safe. As much as snakes aren’t feared by me, it’s good not to go picking up every one you come across to carry on a conversation up close and personal. LOL (You gotta know I’d soooooo do that!)

    I’m glad for your experience. And I’m glad that it’s one you’ve been able to broaden and keep in your life–nightime is darkness for some of us. But there’s so much in life you cannot/do not see, even in broad daylight. It’s a delusion to tell ourselves because it IS light, we do see.

    *laughing* That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

    But I adored yours way more than mine, justsoyaknow……

    • Fear really is something we have to manage. Otherwise, it manages us. I am not the least surprised that you have the courage of Tarzan. I hope that doesn’t mean you have go around repressing yourself a lot. I hope your courage is lived out when you are vibrating with excitement! Just because you are you and I like that part of you so much!

  17. By the way, are you related to Ainslie MacLeod?

    What a treaure of a story and a story well told. You do know how to keep us rivited and how to build a mystery. Well done! And more importantly, glad to know you were able to make a friend of the night and that you have such a dear and good friend.

    Blessings …

  18. Is this a real story Amy? If yes, the good think is that you found a friend, no many appear around to teach how to love the things that bring fears! I’m quite a fearless person, not that I’m not afraid of things, but the dark was never scary to me. There was once in university, my friend and I were late for a party, so to save time we decided to cross the park between the University town and the place where we were supposed to be … well. now as I think it was very silly idea, but then it was kind of exciting. Nothing happened, but many girls had found troubles in that park even during the day … We all have fears, but they all have healing treatment … and even better if someone holds your hand while you try to get over it.

    • Yes, Blaga, this is a true story. I am blessed with good people in my life! Lots of my friends live with the idea, “Fear or faith…it’s your choice.” My heart goes out to people who live with the imprisonment of fear.

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