Thursday, September 2, 2010

Skinny Night Bear: A Children’s Story about Fear and Imagination

When I was a kid, I was afraid of the dark, though I wasn’t afraid of just anything in the dark; I was afraid of the Skinny Night Bear.
Perhaps you haven’t heard of the Skinny Night Bear. My parents hadn’t! And I’m not for certain just where I heard of the Skinny Night Bear either. But I was very, very afraid of the Skinny Night Bear.
Like my parents, I’m still not exactly sure what a Skinny Night Bear looks like, but I am pretty sure it is black and white, because TVs were all in black and white when I was a kid. This made television a whole lot scarier. (Or at least I think so.) I am pretty sure I got the idea on television.
According to my vague fear, the Skinny Night Bear looked in some ways like a skeleton, the sorts that are everywhere at Halloween. Skeletons are certainly “skinny.” I am less sure where I got the “bear” part of my fantasy, except that bears are tall and scary when they stand on their hind legs. I am sure I had seen bears on television—in black and white.
The “night” part is easier to explain. As I said earlier, the dark scared me.
One last detail concerning the Skinny Night Bear: I was convinced it had wheels. This detail doesn’t exactly make sense, except that wheels make things go fast, and I was convinced that a Skinny Night Bear would come rushing into my bedroom.
The point is that I don’t know exactly what a Skinny Night Bear looks like. . .because I never actually SAW a Skinny Night Bear, despite all the time I spent LOOKING for one.
The Skinny Night Bear was scary because it lived in my imagination. And this is why the Skinny Night Bear was a creature of the dark: darkness is the place where our imaginations are most at play. I could create the vision of a Skinny Night Bear on the darkness in my room, just as I THOUGHT I had seen him on the black and white television. But the fact is, I never saw such a thing anywhere.
I created the Skinny Night Bear out of fear, in my own imagination.

Which is one thing about fear: We imagine having a medical procedure; we think it’s going to be terrible, yet when we have it. . . it’s not all that bad. Fear encourages our imaginations to run away with us—as if they were on wheels. Imagination is a wonderful human ability, but it can run away with us, especially when fear gets involved.
Sometimes we have to stop.
And take a deep breath.
And relax.
And really look at the things that scare us.
When we take some time to consider, things like Skinny Night Bears aren’t even there. And things like medical procedures usually aren’t all that bad.
As for the dark— it can be a very friendly place. Even a place where we imagine good things, like friendly purple dragons or big yellow fish. And, if you really try, maybe even a friendly Skinny Night Bear on wheels.
So much of what we are is in the words and the imagination.

It’s poetry all the way down.

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