Do you remember getting rid of those monsters that lived in your childhood bedroom? You know, the ones that lurked in your closet and hid under your bed, waiting for the lights to go out so they could pop out and do what monsters do?
How you answer that question is a pretty good indicator of how you approach the topic I’m writing about: fear. Was your first thought a definitive, such as “They were gone the day I started fifth grade,” or maybe “I don’t remember having any monsters in my bedroom?” What about, “I think by the time I was six I was fine going to sleep by myself?” Or did you think, “Wait, what? Everyone knows monsters don’t exist!”
If you remembered your monsters disappearing, then you probably already know that you alone deserve the credit for that. Years ago, one of my sons’ bedrooms was severely infested with monsters. I tried all kinds of remedies. I used a bottle of Monster Spray (ok, it was actually hairspray, but he couldn’t read yet); I bought a Dirt Devil cordless vac with one-touch action that removed all under-bed monsters- guaranteed! (Yes, really.) We sang a noisy song as part of an exorcism-type bedtime ritual, I put a dresser in front of the closet door, tape around the dresser drawers…and the list went on, right up until the trip to the child therapist. You know what she told me? “Try letting him work through his fear himself. Be supportive but don’t try to fix it for him.” Wise words, those…and they worked a whole lot better than my monster spray. I stood in his doorway each night and gave him carte blanche to do whatever was necessary to get rid of those monsters. Within a week, he made peace with them and they departed our home forever.
If you identify your childhood as monster-free, I’d say you are lucky…or in the alternative, maybe you never looked under your bed. And if recall going to bed independently, but consciously avoid any mention of monsters…well, let’s face it, monsters are everywhere. It’s definitely easy to avoid them if you stay away from the places where they lurk. You don’t see them in your comfort zone…but would you actually recognize them and know what to do if one of them showed up on your doorstep? Or in the parking lot of where you shop? Monsters have many shapes and sizes, and I know this sounds awful, but they can look just like you or me. They could be your neighbors or friends, the people who work in your neighborhood or sit next to you at your job. If you never take the opportunity to see what they look like or hear what they sound like…hell, SMELL those monsters…then you also miss the opportunity to learn how to react and manage your own fear. Heightening your awareness of your surroundings- like looking under the bed- is the first step to recognizing potential danger. I’ve met adults who had no idea what to do when those inevitable monsters appeared, people who acknowledged that monsters exist, but thought “that could never happen here.” I’ve heard people acknowledge they saw monster tracks in their yard, but they weren’t sure…couldn’t prove it…or simply didn’t want to be the one to blow the whistle. Nobody likes to be uncomfortable, and most of us don’t exactly love conflict…but shying away from anything what scares you might actually be worse in the long run. You miss the chance to develop some pretty critical reactionary skills, the ones we all want when confronted with danger, the ones that won’t leave you helpless when those monsters jump out. Never mind the guilt if you saw the signs, looked away…and the monster got someone else. You can avoid those monsters under the bed, folks, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there.
My final thought is for anyone who says they don’t believe in monsters. Turn on the news. Look around, then please listen carefully: IT. IS. A. METAPHOR. Threats to our personal safety exist in every community, every neighborhood, on every campus, in every workplace in the world. Denial and complacency are the most dangerous monsters of all, scarier even than criminals or any crime you can imagine. Denial and complacency are the monsters that hold the door to allow the others in. I encourage you to start now: locate your monsters and start sweeping them out from under your bed. I’ll bring the Aqua Net.