When I was a kid growing up in Eastern Washington, my friends and I would often get together for a sleepover. We would order pizza, play video games, stay up as late as possible, and — more often than not —we’d invent some new game or alter an existing one. This particular night was similar, but with a twist.
We were out in the country, surrounded by wheat fields, on a cold, dark, wintery night. Our bellies were full and our imaginations were fully engaged. Our ability to stay awake into the wee morning hours was becoming difficult and sleep was imminent. As we climbed into our sleeping bags, the lights were turned off, and the basement became pitch black.
“What’s that?” one of my friends asked.
“What?” we all responded, drearily. “What’s what? It’s too dark to see anything.”
“That,” he said again, pointing a finger we couldn’t see towards something across the room. “It’s glowing.”
In the distance, we could see a greenish glow emanating from behind the closet door. It wasn’t a normal light either, like that of a lightbulb, television, or nightlight; it was the glow of outer space.
We all sat up in our sleeping bags, unsure of what to do, ready to fight but not brave enough to actually emerge from the safety of our cocoons. Thanks to the lack of sleep, late night terror and laughter kicked in and, we began to hypothesize.
“Aliens!” “A monster!” “A creature made of ooze!”
I vividly remember debating how we were going to handle the situation. Our first unanimous agreement was to keep the lights off. If we were going to sneak up on the mystery guest, it was going to have to be in the dark. Our second brainstorm was to not approach unarmed, thus we created slings out of our socks. We reached around our respective areas, found small objects, and filled the bottom of our socks before tying a knot above the miscellaneous weaponry. As we practiced swinging the socks above our heads, you could hear the breeze rushing throughout the room. Finally, we discussed who would lead the way into the darkness.
Questions arose like, ‘do we go as a group’ or ‘should we send a scout’? We debated the pros and cons of our plan — ‘We will be heroes’ and ‘we might die tonight’ were the two extremes we wavered between.
Finally, my buddy arose and took the first step. We cheered him on through whispers and sock twirls. In the middle of a wheat field, surrounded by the silence of the amber countryside, we were going to capture an alien.
You could hear each sock-free-foot slowly lower to the ground. Our eyes had adjusted to the dark enough that we could see his shadowy figure move towards the glow. Our nervousness, however, revealed itself via muffled laughter, uneasy shuffling in our sleeping bags, and heavier than normal breathing.
He had made it to the door when we simultaneously realized we hadn’t discussed this part of the plan. Should he quickly swing the door open or slowly turn the knob, sneaking up on the unsuspecting creature? What was the best plan of attack? He was on his own and, I have to admit, I liked his course of action.
He flung open the door, screamed loudly, and ran back towards his sleeping bag, all the while swinging his sock above his head and then throwing it in the general direction of the closet door. We all joined in on the attack from our bunkers tossing homemade sock grenades at the wall. Thump! Whack! Boom! Bam!
“Die alien, die!” we yelled. “Get outta here monster, go!” we screamed.
And it worked.
The glow disappeared and we heard footsteps running briskly upstairs. Whatever it was had panicked and ran away. It had left the basement! We saved the day! But wait…we paused…the footsteps weren’t running away, they were running towards us.
“Ahhhhhhhhh!” we frantically yelled as we hid ourselves into the safety of our sleeping bags. “It’s coming down the stairs!”
Curses and swears and heavy breathing were filling the now not-so-silent air.
The lights clicked on.
“What is going on down here?” asked my friend’s parents. They had been startled by the chaos, awoken from their slumber, and charged down the stairs to the rescue. Or they were really angry with us. I don’t remember exactly.
We filled them in on our mission and, after further investigation, we discovered the glow was simply the moon shining through a window at the right angle to make the closet glow.
No alien. No monster. No mysterious creature made of ooze.
His parents returned upstairs and we settled back in, surprisingly proud of how brave we were. We had already forgotten about the fear, the screaming, and the panic and all we remembered were the moments of bravery.
“Remember when we threw our socks? That was awesome!”
“How about when you flung open the door ready for battle? Yeah!”
“What do you think was in there?” We still didn’t fully believe it was only the moon.
We had entered into the darkness, into the unknown, and battled aliens. At least, that’s how we told the story at Jefferson Elementary School on Monday.
When Michael Robinson, retired NFL fullback, talks about the success of great running backs, he often speaks of their willingness to enter into the dark creases. It’s that moment, he explains, when you can’t see what’s in front of you and there doesn’t appear to be any open path emerging, yet, you trust your instincts, you trust those around you, and you enter into the mess anyways.
The dark creases are scary and terrifying.
With that said, they are oftentimes not nearly as daunting as we originally believed they could be.
It’s another year of teaching, and I feel like I’m currently back on the farm, ready to enter into another dark crease, unsure of the path that will emerge.
But, I’m excited.
And I’m not alone. I’ve got my instincts and I trust that my friends, family, and community are supporting me from sleeping-bag-bunkers all around the world, whirling their socks above their head, ready to enter into the mess with me.
Like those kids in the basement, I’m once again venturing into the unknown and, I have to admit, I’m brave.
Or at least that’s how I plan on remembering it.