Still turning over yesterday’s Food for Thought post in my mind (the one in which Jeb suggests that fear resides in the side of his brain that isn’t ‘right’), I was inspired to jump into the firing line of that synapse circuitry and have a little adventure.
It was Saturday night after all, and what’s a mom to do when she’s got her seven-year old and a hankering for a thrill? A walk in the dark by flashlight seemed fitting. So despite his reservations (and zero hesitation on requesting to the entire dinner party, as we were leaving, “can someone please give us a ride home?”) I stuck a flashlight in Jeb’s hand and steered him with great confidence into the moonless night.
We had about a mile between the dinner party and our house. One long, dirt road (often traversed by wild pigs) and a quiet, two-lane, paved road that would lead us to our awaiting abode.
Jeb had been all protest at the party- “Mom, we have to walk by the cemetery!” (Ok, it’s true, we did) – but once we set foot into the stillness of the night, he was as silent as the air that hung warmly all around us. I didn’t mention the potential of wild pigs (a greater reservation of mine than the cemetery spirits) and he hadn’t considered them.
We walked side by side on the gravel road, our flashlights each casting blue-white beams before us. There was no wind, just summer quiet, the starlight above us, and the sound of stones rolling quietly beneath our footsteps.
Just trying to hold his own – manage his own inner fears – I could sense that Jeb wanted silence. Me, on the other hand, I was thinking that a little chattiness would alert any unsuspecting, protective mama pig that humans were approaching.
I rambled. “Imagine the Polynesians traveling at night in the ocean like this, Jeb. They didn’t have light, no flashlights, no batteries. There weren’t even landmarks to guide their way. Just ocean water all around them and the stars up above.”
“They could use a map.”
“They didn’t even have maps then. This was a time before there were maps. The stars were their map.”
There is tall grass on either side of us, bordering the dirt road we walk upon. Wild pastures stretch out beyond in both directions. Not far behind us in the brush I hear a faint sound of something rustling. Maybe an actual sound from a mammal. It’s quiet, I’m not sure. My body perks, electric, all senses keen. A primal response.
I keep walking. Talking.
With my ears reaching toward any sound in the surrounding grasses, I attempt to portray all things casual. “Look at all of the stars tonight. It’s a new moon, so we can really see them.”
Jeb’s still not all that talkative so he only makes some mumbled sound of agreement. And then there is the deep, low grunt that emerges from the shadows some 100 yards or so to the left. It’s sourced from something largish, I can tell, then followed by some smaller sounds – I’m certain it is a mother pig with her young.
“What was that?” Jeb asks.
If I tell the truth I don’t know how he’ll react. We’ve got 3/4 of mile more to go and I don’t want a paranoid traveling companion freaking out at every rustled leaf between here and home. As I search my brain for the right thing to say, work to still my own beating heart, and still keep my senses tuned to whether that sound is now behind us – and staying there – Jeb tries to answer his own question.
“Was that a bunny?”
There must be a god. And this must be a miracle in action. Because my son is intelligent. Why he would even consider that the loud, guttural grunt that sounded like it came from an animal weighing over 150 pounds, was potentially sourced from a small and fluffy creature – typically known to be silent – I have no idea. Perhaps as a survival mechanism, his brain was moving into instant denial, conjuring the exact opposite of anything threatening: a cuddly bunny. It defied logic, as miracles tend to do, and at this moment, I welcomed the supernatural.
But I didn’t want to lie. I just couldn’t bring myself to say, “yes, that was a bunny.” Instead, I skirted. “Hmmm….a bunny? Well, there are some bunnies on Kauai. But I think they used to be pets and then they got loose and would get in people’s gardens – kind of like Peter Rabbit – and eat all of their vegetables. And then they would reproduce and kind of make trouble for all the gardeners….”
And I’m just talking. Trying to use my human words and move my flashlight about on the ground so that mother pig knows, we’re just silly humans out on a little Saturday night adventure and we’re just passing through here on the road, and she doesn’t need to do anything except stay cozy in that tall grass, which is swiftly shrinking further and further behind us in the distance.
We have something in common, she and I. It’s night and we’re with our offspring, just taking in the starlight, wanting to stay safe.
I can see the paved road up just ahead. This section has more houses (well, the cemetery, too) and I know that pigs are much less likely to venture toward the road.
Our conversation moves from bunnies to other topics that I can’t relay in this moment. I don’t recall what words were coming out of my mouth as my mind launched thousands of impulses that coursed through my veins beneath my skin and raced as rapid-fire thoughts. All the while, trying to convey a sense of calm and confidence to my son. Trying to remind myself that all was well, that we were safe.
And we were. We got to the main road just fine. No more pig sounds to be heard. We were already a quarter-mile past the cemetery before Jeb asked “Have we gotten to the cemetery yet?”
All rules were different in the night. We walked down the center of the road along the yellow divider line. A total of three cars passed. And then, eventually, we were home. Mission accomplished – my Saturday night adventure had been had. And we both had faced some fears, hopefully stronger and more courageous because of it.
So, I’m left to ponder Jeb’s thoughts on fear coming from the left side of the brain – his second-grade metaphor essentially suggesting that fear isn’t ‘right’. I don’t think I’ve ever taught him that fear is wrong. But I guess I have conveyed that fear isn’t always right. Or, at least, that it doesn’t always have to have the final say.
We’ve got these brains, you know. They’re old. These lobes that are still evolving. Some of it’s just biology. We’re wired this way. Fear is going to arise.
What makes someone courageous is not that they don’t have fear. It’s that they have the fear but choose to move through it, face it, and go forward anyway. I think that’s what sets the heroes apart from all the rest of us. They don’t freeze in their fear. They transcend that ‘old mammalian brain’ and find the gold on the other side.
Jeb and I, we didn’t slay any monstrous dragons. But we conjured some courage. Walked in darkness, side by side. Our gold? Some starlight. A warm, still night. Some new circuit routes paved.
Maybe some points on the map for next time.