Night is not simply the close of day or the barrier that separates one day from the next. It is a season apart, a thing unto itself with its own peculiar qualities beyond only the absence of daylight. At night we allow ourselves to turn inward as the pace of our action slows. It is a time when we cease active toil. Stories told at night are more vivid, sounds take on an other-worldly nature, the thump of a falling tree limb or the whistle of wind become invasive and startling in the darkness. There is an old proverb… “Beware of strangers in the night, you can never tell if they are a friendly dog or a ravenous wolf”. This is no less true to the modern citizen of the world than it was for our ancient and isolated ancestors for whom night represented a very real, very dangerous threat. Even in the cities where false day is created thanks to electricity night still carries with it all manner of terrors. Crime is always worse at night or so we tell ourselves’ alarms shriek out with greater clarity in the hollow darkness alerting the listener of a danger somewhere, out there, out in the deep night. The keen ear distinguishes the burglar alarm from the wail of a police car, an ambulance or fire truck, each of which have a distinctive voice crying out DANGER! DANGER! DANGER! We listen to them with a sense of dread at night that isn’t there during the day and feel relief as they slowly recede away.
Even sleep is never so sound and as peaceful as the poets would have us believe. When you close your eyes your shut you out the real world and open them into a world that is a very different place created from the stuff of our imagination, the dream stuff born in the depths of psychological desires. Here is a world of symbol and metaphor the meaning of which is often obscured by the miasma that exists as a fog in our dreams. Indeed Nights onset was described as a physical occurrence, as if a deepening mist rose up from the shadows to envelope the wary nocturnal traveller. The phrase “enveloped by night” had a literal truth to it. This other-world is so different from the one we are familiar with that our senses lack the vocabulary to make sense of it despite our efforts to derive understanding. One minute we might revel in joy, discovering wealth and beauty or adventure that exist out of reach to us when awake only to turn a corner and recoil from a thousand terrors whose imaginary nature makes them no less threatening. It was once a common belief that a person who dreams of death can really die . This has been disproven yet death is a very real predator in the realms we visit during slumber. Strokes and heart attacks occur with greater frequency when we sleep and all those small pains we endure during the day become magnified at night as our bodies relax. And of course anyone who has ever worried over money or health or a relationship will attest that the worry increases ten-fold by night until it seems as though it might take on a shape and burst out of the closet a fully realized bogeyman.
As night approaches and we put our children to bed listen to their fears of the bogeyman and hairy monsters under the bed waiting to snatch them in the night because those fears are not so far removed from our own. And in the deepening darkness of the world that exists beyond the edge of midnight there is no such thing as a fear too small to ignore. Not even fear of the dark!