1) Writers write.
I don’t know of a kid who wasn’t scared of the dark. As far as you know, there are lots of things in the dark. Lots of things that you have know idea about. Lots of things that will scare you and keep you up at night.
In my adulthood I have heard stories of people coming home late at night – very late (usually after a long night of drinking) – crashing on their couch and waking up at two or three in the morning to find a “shadow” sitting in the chair or coach next to them.
When I was in college I went home to visit my best friend from high school and he told me about how, one night, he had gotten home particularly late after being out at the bars, and fell asleep quickly on his bed. As most drunks do, he woke up in the dead hours of the night and had to pee. As he stumbled out of his bedroom to go down the hallway he stopped cold. There was a “shadow” blocking his way to the bathroom. He said that he waited and waited for quite a while to see if the shadow would leave, but it never did.
He eventually ended up peeing his pants and he swore that he hadn’t had a drink since.
I don’t know about you, but when I was a little boy I didn’t have many late nights out, drinking and carousing. My bedtime was 8:00pm (8:30 in the summers), and I still saw “shadows.”
It still creeps me out if I let it.
I’m sure it was like any other night in our house. I went outside to play after dinner, came in and took a bath. My parents read me a night time story and, before I hoped into bed, we most likely prayed the most ubiquitous children’s prayer of all time:
Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
And if I die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.
When you think of it, it’s kind of a morbid, scary little verse, and I’m surprised that it hasn’t been known to send children into a state of fear and anguish.
But, actually, why would it? Kids know nothing about death. They know nothing about grave, mortal fear. At the most they have squashed a bug (or forty), or pulled the wings off a fly or the legs off of a spider. Usually, kids in my situation (white, Christian, suburban, middle class) don’t think about death, and if they do, well, it’s because they’ve been told about Jesus. And Jesus is alive damn it. Still, even though Jesus is alive, if he came into my room, late at night and unannounced, I’d probably wet my bed.
So after a while of my sweet little slumber I awoke to find that, like my high school friend, I, too, had to pee. I hopped up and went.
Now there was a fairly strict rule in our house that once you’re in bed – you’re in bed. And by strict rule I mean that when I or my siblings ever would get out of bed we would get “the look” and our parents would yell that “we’d better hurry our little butts up and not come out again.” I hurried my little butt up and rushed back to my room. As I crawled into my bed, which was right next to a window, I spotted it.
There was a shadow in that window, and it was shaped like Batman. The entire bottom half of the window was covered with this shadow – it was a bust of Batman. The ears were a dead give away.
This is perfect, I thought. Batman is standing right outside my window. He had jumped off the pages of the comics and into my reality. I may have had Jesus in my heart, but I had Batman right out side my window. And it hit me – I have Batman outside my window.
I took a few deep breaths. I was nervous. I was about to meet my very own personal superhero. I slid out of bed, slowly placed my hand on the curtain, and ripped it back.
Nothing. There was absolutely no one or no thing right outside of my window.
I was baffled. I had seen the shadow. Something had to be there. I closed the curtains. There it was. I opened them. Nothing. What was going on?
The great thing about a child’s brain is that the child will search and search and search for the right answer. Despite what the researchers are telling us about television, kids really are inventive. If it can’t be A then it has to be B.
Take my oldest son, Ian, for instance. Every day I come home from work to hear another way that he has managed to categorize the world. Most of the time it has to do with patterns and similarities.
When his youngest brother, Julian, was born he declared to the family that Julian “had more of me in him than anyone else.” When he saw us looking at him confused as hell, he informed us that “My name, Ian, is in Julian’s named, and since he was born in Indiana that adds another layer to it. Because “Ian” is in Indiana, too.” This dizzying intellect is what I live with.
This is the same kind of fierce logic that kicked in as I sat down on my bed, trying to figure out the origins of my Batman shadow. I kept looking at it, and after a while it occurred to me that it looked like the bat symbol that Commissioner Gordon would shine into the night sky to call Batman. Maybe Batman wasn’t outside my window, but (almost as cool) maybe Gotham City was really the Greater Tulsa Metropolitan area.
I scrambled back to the window and opened it. No dice. There was a house right next door and there really was no angle by which the bat symbol could have reached my window from Police Headquarters. Even though a light was on in the house, I couldn’t see anything obstructing the light that would produce the kind of shadow that I was looking at. I was back to square one. What could the shadow be?
I hadn’t been staring at it for that long when a creepy feeling came over me, and I began to picture a similar scene in my mind’s eye.
Not that long ago there was a special event at our church where a man came and talked about the evils of rock-n-roll music. He played some music and then played it backwards to show us the evil messages that are hidden in the music. He played Queen, and we learned that “Another one bites the dust” backwards is “I love to smoke marijuana.” I didn’t know what marijuana was a the time, but I gathered enough to know that it was bad.
He also showed us some of the art from these albums. The one that struck me as the most eerie was the Eagles “Hotel California.” He went through a line-by-line dissection of the song, telling us it was a tribute to Anton LeVay and the Church of Satan. He buttressed his point by showing us the inside of the album in which a figure which could be LeVay, but looked more like the Devil to me, was barely seen in a balcony window overlooking the foyer of the “Hotel California.”
It was so creepy, this puppet master – barely there – convincing and condoning the unaware partiers to continue in their drunken revelry.
And now this puppet master was in my room. The Devil was in my room.
I didn’t know what to do. I was petrified. I just stared at it.
Finally, I called out to my dad.
“Landon, what is it?”
“The Devil is in my window.”
“The Devil’s not in your window.”
“He is too. Look.”
Of course, he couldn’t see anything. I started to feel like the kid in The Polar Express. But because parents, for the most part, love their children and want them to be peaceful and unafraid, I was able to convince my father to go outside and investigate further whether or not there was something that could be making the shadow.
He went as close to the neighbor’s house as he could without seeming like a freak, and looked as close to the window as he dared. He attempted to step between the light and the window to see if that would make a difference. It didn’t. Every time I closed the curtain, the Devil was there.
For what had to have been at least a half an hour this went on. And, finally, my dad came back in. He had exhausted all possibilities. Except one.
“I think we just need to pray, son, and bind the Devil in Jesus’ name. The Bible says that at the name of Jesus the Devil will flee.”
My dad knelt down beside my bed and I rolled to face him – away from the window. And we prayed. My dad bound the Devil in the name of Jesus, and told the Devil that he had no business being here – that we were children of God. He told the Devil to go away and to never come back. He told the Devil to leave his little boy alone.
When he was done he kissed my forehead.
“Do you want to look and see?”
I shook my head. What good was trusting God’s promises if you were always going to look over your shoulder to see if they worked.
“All right then. Good night.” And he left.
I would be lying to say that I wasn’t scared. I was. I was very scared. The only thing that got me to sleep that night was to repeat my bedtime prayer:
Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
And if I die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.
I never saw the Devil (or Batman) in my window again.
My earliest memories were in church. Life began and ended there. My life began there, and, some would say, my “real life” as a child of God began there too.
We went to this remarkably big church for a while in Broken Arrow, OK, which is just outside of Tulsa. It was your typical early to mid-eighties Charismatic church. There was singing and dancing galore – holy rollers to be sure. I have a vivid memory of that church because, apparently, that’s where I “accepted Jesus into my heart.”
“Accepting Jesus into your heart” was a big deal in my family. It seemed like every moment of your life your family would look forward to you “getting saved.” It happened to me when I was five or six. To be honest, it never really was that big of a deal to me (the getting saved part, not the being a Christian part) and apparently it wasn’t that day either.
The band at the church had been pumping for what seemed like an hour (in that church it could have been) and the pastor kept saying that “the Holy Ghost is obviously in this place.” I took as evidence of that the fact that people were running around the freaking huge sanctuary like they were at a track meet, dancing in the aisles, on the seats, banging tambourines, and clapping like Jesus was, literally, on his way back to pick them up. It was a riot.
But to my little boy sensibilities, it was not a riot. I was intrigued at the total abandon that people were able to experience. I was amazed to see grown men and women flailing their bodies about. I was always too embarrassed to do it. To this day, I have a difficult time dancing in front of other people, and I wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that dancing for me has always been equated with religious fervor – a fervor I have struggled to understand my entire life.
I’m not sure how it happened but after a while I was up on my feet. I don’t know what was different about that particular Sunday, but I needed to move. Of course I thought it was the Holy Ghost coursing through my veins (and it may have been) but all I knew was that I needed to move my little body.
So I began to run and run and run and run. The music was frenetic and exciting and triumphant and I was like a little Christian Rocky Balboa taking the spiritual steps of Philly.
After a while the music seemed to calm down a bit and I landed on the front steps of the stage. An adult came down to talk to me and, almost without thinking, I told him that I guessed I wanted to be saved.
Now I knew that I was not a perfect little kid, and I never really claimed to be. I’ve gotta say that I wasn’t really scared of hell – hell wasn’t even a thought in my mind. All I knew was that it felt good to be there and to run and dance and sing and if that was what having Jesus in your heart was about then I was all for it.
It wasn’t about Jesus for me. It was about me. I’m not ashamed of it, nor do I think that it’s wrong or unique. In fact I would be willing to bet you that if you asked any group of little kids why it was that they “got saved,” they would most likely tell you one of two things: a) because Mom and Dad told them they should or b) because they wanted Jesus on their side.
It was the second for me. I wanted Jesus on my side. If what the pastor said was true then it seemed to me to be a pretty good option for me to have the kick ass King of Kings in my corner. This Jesus he was talking about is the one that told the Devil to shove it, cast out demons, and walked on water. Oh damn – he walked on water!
To be honest that was the coolest freaking thing about Jesus to me: the guy had superpowers. Now, we were taught to call them “miracles”, but, let’s be honest, these are superpowers were looking at. Raising people from the dead? Healing people of diseases? Lame to walk? Deaf to hear? This is straight outta the comics folks, and I wanted to be a part of every bit of it. But, whereas superheros live in the comics – I’ve got Jesus in my heart. Take that, Stan Lee.
So this guy asks me if I want to have Jesus I my heart, and I say yes. Then he asks me if I’m sorry for all my sins. I have no clue really what I should be sorry for, but I say yes. And he tells me to repeat after him, and I do, and now I’m saved.
Kind of a let down. You’ve got the most powerful entity in the universe, who can kick the shit out of anything, and all I had to do was say “come in”? Fine by me, if there’s nothing more to it.
Later when we were standing outside of the sanctuary with another family my mom told me to “Tell so-and-so your exciting news.” I was puzzled. Exciting news? What the hell was she talking about?
My own mother had to prompt me to retell the story of how I had just gotten myself saved from the fiery pits of hell. All I wanted was to have a superhero for a best friend.
Thanks to Mike Freisen for reminding me of this awesome quote by Thomas Merton:
MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
Because you deserve to listen to good music, I see it as my job to keep you, Dear Reader, abreast of good aural fare coming your way. In the last two days, I’ve learned about a couple of albums being released in the coming months. I am excited.
You should be excited about them, too.
First, Dar Williams:
Yeah, she’s awesome.