It was embarrassing, but there I was, a 13-year-old standing in his parent’s bedroom crying about the monster under my bed.
I’d gone to bed as usual, but soon after heard groanings from beneath my mattress. I lay quietly listening, trying to catch a hint as to what it was, but when it suddenly let out a loud growl, I was out of bed like a shot.
I burst into my parents’ bedroom, switched on the light and blurted out, “there’s somebody under my bed!” I immediately felt like a 5-year-old as my father rolled over and my mother rolled her eyes. I told her what I’d heard and it was convincing enough for her to get up and follow me back into my room.
We stood in the now-lit room and listened to deafening silence. The floor creaked a bit as I shifted my weight and I shook my head to let Mom know that was not the sound I’d heard. She told me to look under the bed, but I was too scared, so she let out a sigh, knelt down and peered under. I got up the courage to get down and look myself. When my eyes adjusted to the dark, I saw nothing under the bed but a few boxes. Mom waited for me to get back into bed, listened with me for a few more seconds and the headed back to bed, shutting off the light on the way.
I lay there in the dark listening to the quiet in the room and the crickets outside. I may even have fallen asleep for a moment but then I heard the sounds starting again. Faint and intermittent at first, they became louder and more consistent until at last there was that growl again.
Back in Mom and Dad’s lighted room and almost in tears, I assured them there was really something under my bed. Dad swore and asked if he needed to get up. I told him no, but really wanted him too. Mom told me I was behaving like a child and I was not to come back into their room that night. I slunk back to my again-silent room, sat on the bed and tried to calm myself.
This wasn’t a fear of hairy, yellow-eyed monsters – that would have been childish. No, this was an adult fear about evil spirits and demonic possession that I’d heard about in Church and I’d talked about with friends. And It didn’t help that I felt guilt for all my 13-year-old sins. So, I left the light on, covered my head and toughed it out until I fell asleep.
Early the next morning my Mom came into my room laughing. “I figured out what your monster was!” I sat up and watched her drop to her knees and pull a box out from under my bed. She reached into the box and pulled out a large Mason jar. She explained that Dad had made a batch of root beer, put it Mason jars and, needing a cool dark place to let it work, slid it under my bed without telling me. What I had heard the night before was the gas escaping from the unsealed lids of the jars – moaning and groaning before letting out long, loud growls.
What was terrifying in the ignorance of the dark night was now actually funny in the bright daylight of revealed truth.
Today, too many of us are too much like the 13-year-old me. We hear the sounds of despair and angst around us and we become frightened, angry or both. We shout about the monsters and retreat under the covers of our ignorance. When we see it all in the light of day with enlightened explanations, our fear abates. We are even able to “laugh” at ourselves.
I am currently experiencing déjà vu. On TV in the 1960’s, I watched the cities of America burn every summer as poor, black Americans acted out their frustrations. Many of the riots ignited over incidents of real or perceived police brutality, but the frustrations were much broader and deeper. We lived through it and many things changed (among them the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Right Act of 1965), but many things didn’t. And for some reason, we find ourselves reliving it 50 years later.
My personal experience with this monster is illustrative. In the 60’s, I was sure I was watching the end of the world. Adults around me, all white by the way, (and I am using their language here) sympathized with the plight of the negro, but thought it foolish to riot and burn down your own neighborhoods and businesses. They were sure that Martin Luther King was in league with the Communists and that Communist agitators were behind much of the rioting.
I believe they were oblivious to the civil rights gains of the time. At least we never talked about what it meant except to say that it had helped to calm things down. We had bigger fish to fry (Vietnam, the arms race and the Cultural Revolution) and so in our white world, racism and civil rights were non-issues we were happy to see fade into the background.
Since that time my world has expanded and the light of truth has begun to dawn for me. I personally know more people of color, have studied the history of racism and have come to see the injustice. I am proud of the gains we’ve made and how many hearts have changed, but am not proud that we still have people who struggle to enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness just because of the color of their skin.
I am not stupid. I know that racism is not just a matter of not liking a person because of his skin color. There are political, social and economic factors at the root of it all. These are the problems that we need to fix.
There is much more to be said on this issue and I plan on saying it in subsequent posts. For today, two things. One is that we all need to open our hearts and minds and listen to and understand the feelings of our fellow man. We need to be brothers and sisters – children of God. We need to know that the huge majority of people are good and want what is right. We need to rely on that and respond with hope and optimism.
The other is the part of the monster under the bed story that I didn’t tell you. You see I was really scared that night. I thought the sounds were something real and that I was partly at fault. What got me through the night as I lay in bed with the covers over my head is that I prayed my heart out. I confessed all my sins; I asked for forgiveness; I begged God to protect me and told him if he did, I would be a better man.
Perhaps, for us all, that is a really good option for today – praying, confessing, begging, and promising to do better.