Are you afraid of the dark? Why or why not?

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Certainly there is something inherently ominous and powerful about darkness. I am amazed at how many things are signified by darkness. Darkness evokes imagery like loneliness, sadness, ignorance, confusion, death, hopelessness, and sinfulness. Consider the verbs we use with darkness: creeps, looms, falls, lurks, envelops. And also consider the contrast: light, vibrancy, sun, illumination, and sight. These things that contrast  darkness are rarely to never used in a way that is not positive, hopeful, or good. It is our treatment of darkness, in literature and symbolism and even in practice, that I cannot help but think that in some way, darkness is our enemy.

Despite the countless gorgeous and clever illustrations and uses of darkness used in literature and film, one use of darkness stands out above all others: and it comes from a video game. It is as though Alan Wake was tailor made for me. In the game, you play a mystery/horror author who is seeking to find and rescue his wife. Playing the roll of the antagonist: Darkness. Throughout the story the darkness takes various forms; descending on you like a pack of angry birds*, furiously stalking you as the walking dead, or sweeping around as a black cloud that inhabits inanimate objects, turning them into weapons that are hurled dangerously in your direction. Your main line of defense is light in all its various forms to weaken the enemy. You are armed with flash bombs, flare guns, and a flashlight. The game is very well developed and downright creepy at times. The experience was that of watching a long horror film where you are responsible for finding the monster yourself. 

This game, and the horror genre in general interests me. If we are inherently opposed to darkness, why then do we seek it in our entertainment? Why do we enjoy feeling our skin crawl and our pulse race? Perhaps it is for the same reason we love any story of conflict: we love to prevail. Maybe we watch frightening movies of darkness because generally they end in a way that triumphs over the darkness in the end. Or could it be that even when a film ends in despair or shock, we can exit the theater, into the light, and just like in Plato’s Cave, we experience truth in the light? And perhaps it is that moment of escape and release which feels like victory that causes us to want to seek it as entertainment.

When I first considered my answer to this question, “Are you afraid of the dark?”, I was convinced my answer would be “No.” I was reminded of nights where Sarah comes running to bed after she’s turned out the lights and the smirk I wear over her silly little fear of the dark. Because I do not quicken my pace in the darkness of our apartment. And while growing up I sought the comfort of a plug-in night light, I have grown up and am now decades removed from that dependency. But perhaps I am wrong. Maybe I do fear the dark. Maybe there is something inherently wrong about the darkness. Surely I am more comfortable, less uneasy in the light. If fear and respect are roughly synonymous, does it not make sense to fear something as powerful and as deep as darkness? 

I will say this about darkness, and subsequently the fear of it: darkness is like the mighty Achilles. It is ominous and it is powerful; it can take hold, and it can consume. But the dark has a fatal weakness. It flees from light like prey from the hunter. The flickering flame of a candle can shed enough light in a room to make the room navigable. The shine of a light house can beckon even the the most lost of ships safely home. I do fear the dark, in so far as I respect it for its depth and strength, but I reserve a far greater amount of fear (awe) for the light.

*Not these angry birds, these angry birds.

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