Afraid of the Dark

I am editing a book for my friend and co-pastor of our church, RD Hodges. It is titled, The Greatest Adventure I Never Dreamed Of. Here is an excerpt we are still working on:

There were a few black bears that would pass though our woods, and even tales of “panters” (panthers) that would scream in the night. Just the thought of these was enough to keep the footsteps of a young boy quick to the house when night was near.  With big-eyed terror lurking in my imagination, I would only feel safe when our front door was shutting behind me as I came in after dark. I was afraid of the dark.  But, I was a boy growing into a man; I was not supposed to be afraid.

I grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina and spent most of my childhood in the woods. One Saturday I left before first light, as I had done many times before. I had that itch to rush off, to go and hunt, to explore and discover, to hide myself in the woods.  Full of excitement and a spirit of adventure, I was off to hunt squirrels. But this time, with a body growing strong and lungs deep with the fresh morning air, I set my heart on a ridgeline far—further than I had ever gone before. It turned out to be a fruitful day of hunting. I had harvested a pouch full of squirrel and a grouse.

Late in the day, thrilled with the new territory I was covering, I shot and wounded another squirrel. This one was crippled so it could not climb. I chased it on the ground, down a ridge, until it went into the ground under a stump.  I had been taught that you never leave a wounded animal. So I began to dig.  Some time later, I was able to get my hand into the hole and grab its legs. Never in my experience before or since have I been able to understand how I could not pull that squirrel out.  I was tired after a long day. I was sweaty, dirty, hungry, and in tears because I couldn’t get the wounded animal out.

As I finally gave up on the squirrel, I realized that it was almost dark.  Terror struck my heart. I had never been this far before; I didn’t even know exactly where I was. But I knew that in a few minutes it would be dark, and those bears that pass through the woods and those “panters” that scream in the night would be out. I squeezed my 16-gauge shotgun, my only source of comfort. But I had only three shots left, just enough to make a bear or “panter” mad. I was as good as dead and eaten. As the darkness crept into the woods, I was paralyzed with fear. I took a few steps and then stopped to listen. A few more steps . . . stop and listen. I believed that at any minute I would hear the rush of the bear or the scream of the panther right before I died. Moments in terror seem like eternity in time.

Then full-night set in and, to my amazement, I was still alive. Soon, I was walking slowly with my shotgun up in front, ready to fire at will. Then, walking faster, I accepted the possibility that I might make it home in one piece, though much later than normal. Coming down the last hill to my house, I was walking with confidence—my chest out, my gun down by my side. I had made it.

I had conquered the darkness and my fear. I learned that fear could paralyze a person. But I also learned that many times fear has a lot of bark and no bite. It was a joy and relief to come face to face with the big-eyed terror of darkness and survive! This experience planted a seed of understanding about who I was and what I was capable of. Unfortunately, at this point in my life, the only one I could credit for this victory was me. That night I gained assurance in my strength. This was the first of many steps down a dead end road—the dead end road of my own sufficiency.