I admit it. I’m afraid of the dark. I’m afraid of the body-snatching closet lying in wait at the bottom of the basement stairs of my childhood, and the creaking footsteps of imagined intruders when I’m home alone. Darkness mocks me. It mocks the confidence and control that sight over-promises me. It steals the peace for which daylight so tenuously intercedes on my behalf, and instead leaves me alone and unsure under a night sky of worries with no moon. Darkness is not my friend.
This winter, though, I’ve learned to appreciate darkness; embrace it, even. Mostly because of Snickers, my 13 year old German shepherd. In the time it took to put away Halloween costumes and clean up from Christmas, Snickers went blind. A brain tumor.
Her world has become unfamiliar to her. She’s moves like a stranger in her own house, bumping in to the living room couch with no hint of recollection that it was her favorite spot to curl up and be lulled to sleep by the soothing bustle of a family she no longer recognizes.
She gets lost in her own backyard, wearing down a path in the grass as she moves relentlessly in circles searching for her own house, just a few steps away.
Snickers also steps on the cat with great frequency which, deep down, I believe brings her great joy. It appears to be by accident but I wonder if it’s not a calculated expression of the only thread of intentionality life still affords her.
It has changed our routine, taking care of Snickers. Before, we simply let her out the back door at 5 am. Now we must take her on a leash, as there are stairs to maneuver and too much yard to hunt for her in the darkness.
It’s cold and lonely walking in the gray shadows of trees and plants and toys scattered about, that otherwise burst with such vibrant hues of life, but in these early morning hours are obstacles to be negotiated and memories in disarray. And then, of course, there is the occasional land mine of dog poop for which the darkness affords no warning.
That yard has become sacred space to me.
Who would believe holy ground would be found right outside my back door? Or have dog crap on it?
But there in the darkness I’ve experienced Snicker’s vulnerability, her utter dependence, her uncertainty. And with her, my own. As I take each step before her down the stairs so she doesn’t miss one and fall, as I pull on her leash to guide her through many backyard dangers, toils and snares, as I whisper in her ear that she is loved, though she can no longer hear me, God casts a spotlight on the dark places in my own life and assures me of the very same things.
When we allow our eyes to adjust in the darkness instead of squeezing them tightly shut with fear, such promises become so clear.
It’s difficult to walk in the dark places of our lives, knowing that to move in any direction invites both possibility and danger. But where sight is diminished, hearing often becomes more acute. So listen. Listen closely. You might just hear the gentle words that were a gift to Snickers and to me:
“When you go to take a step, and it feels like there’s no ground beneath you, no place to land, feel my hand on your chest and lean in to me. I won’t let you fall.”
“When I tug at you gently, pay attention. Go where I lead. I’m not messing with you; I’m keeping you from walking into a tree.”
“When I slow you down and pull you back, there’s something ahead you need to prepare for.”
“When you get lost in your own backyard, when you get so tired of walking in circles that you give up and lay down at the back fence, I will always, always, come and find you and bring you back to the house.”
“Even when you don’t know me, don’t see me, can’t hear me – I’m still there. And when we get to the end, whenever that is, I will be there, too. You’re never alone.”
Embrace the darkness. In it is the light of life.
An earlier version of this post appeared on Baptist News Global on March 13, 2013.