Years ago, as a Girl Scout Leader, I took a troop of 14 girls and three adults to a Minnesota State Park for an overnight. The tents were built, the ashes from the fire had finished smoking, the songs had been sung, and it was time to settle into our sleeping bags for the night.
Ellie, by chance (or had she planned it?), had propped her tent right next to the adult tent. Just as I was drifting off, she called out, “JEAN?”
Me: Yes, Ellie?
Ellie: Are you there?
Me: Yes, Ellie, I’m right here.
Ellie: Are you sleeping?
Me: No, Ellie, I won’t sleep until you’re asleep.
She seemed comforted by that, and the sounds of the night lured me into a well-deserved deep slumber.
Me: Ellie, I’m right here. It’s okay. Go back to sleep.
Ellie: Did you hear that?
Me: Hear what, Ellie?
Ellie: I don’t know. Was it a bear?
Me: No, it’s not a bear. (Listening) Ellie, that’s an owl! Be quiet so you can listen to the owl.
Ellie: Okay. Were you sleeping?
Me: Nope! I won’t sleep until I know you’re sleeping.
I don’t know how long I was asleep before I was wakened again. The adults next to me sighed and turned in their bags.
Ellie: JEAN? JEAN! JEAN?
Me: Yes! Yes, Ellie, I’m here.
Ellie: I have to go to the bathroom.
Adjacent Adult: (sniggering)
Me: Okay, Ellie. Get your shoes on.
Ellie was wide-eyed and nervously looking around her. I kept the flashlight focused on the ground to enable us to step carefully. Ellie wanted the light shone out around us to see if there was anything to be afraid of. I let her take the light in the out-house with her. As the darkness fell around me and the shadows came into focus, I remembered the night hikes I had taken them on when they were younger. Each year I took them out farther and farther, to the point of challenge and back.
When Ellie came out, I secured the flashlight from her. We ambled back to the campsite, and I told her to stand still. I turned off the light.
Ellie: No! No! What are you doing? Turn the light back on.
Me: (Talking softly) Ellie, just wait . . . can you see anything yet?
Ellie: No! Turn the light back on.
Me: Ellie? Can you see the picnic table? I can start to see the picnic table.
Me: What else do you see?
Ellie: The fire pit.
Me: Oh yeah! I can see that! What else?
Ellie: The trees. The wood. The tents.
Me: Hey, I can see that too! Can you see anything that wasn’t here when the sun was out?
Me: Me either. It’s all the same. It’s just dark. Want to go back to bed?
And so we slept for the rest of what was left of that night.
I was thinking about that today. It was a good night to have behind me, and we were both so proud to have come through it. I for what I had given a young girl, and she for the fear she had met right in the face.
Ellie’s Dad: How did it go last night? (Experience twinkled in his eye)
Me: Just great! Right Ellie?
Ellie’s Dad: (Looking at Ellie’s mom) Really? That’s great!
But there is this metaphor that has not been lost on me. In the darkness, sometimes you have to sit still and wait. Wait until it comes into focus. Wait to see if the fears really do exist. And once you emerge back into the light you can say you went to the edge of your challenge and came back again.
Peace . . .