Katelyn is one of those people that I always want to spend more time with. I've had the pleasure of some lovely talks with her over good food and I've loved every moment of it. She is truly a kind and wise soul, and a good friend. She is also a thoughtful, talented writer, though once you read her piece, that will go without saying. Her de(tale) was exactly what I needed to hear, just now, and I suspect that might be true for many of you as well.
The outhouse was nestled near the back of Camp Whip-Poor-Will, where, for time immemorial (or at least since 1949), the Girl Scout Troops of Western Ohio had gathered to cook tinfoil dinners over precarious campfires and canoe down the Little Miami River and sing dumb songs about donut shops and camp counselors who, when stripped of their makeup, looked like Frankenstein. We did all this for one reason: to become “girls of courage, confidence, and character.” That’s also why we peed in a hole in the ground.
Our troop moms had instructed us of well-flushed ilk in this new experience. Their rules swarmed us like flies. Be sure to take a buddy. Be sure to put the seat down. Be sure not to let the door slam when you’re done, especially at night. “I don’t want to hear that door tonight,” warned one of our troop moms, who was also my real mom.
But the troop moms needn’t worry about doors slamming at night, for we girls had developed another unspoken rule: Go during the day. Get your bladder and bowels in sync with the sun.
We slept in platform tents, our metal beds huddled in the middle of the 12-by-12-foot platform by a centripetal fear. On the canvas stretched over our tents sat wolf spiders the size of saucers. One fellow scout, who had mesmerizing dreadlocks and wore glasses, told me that she had come into the tent one afternoon to find a spider sitting on her pillow. On her pillow. If these creatures had the nerve to lounge on our bedding in broad daylight, who knows what they would do in the dark?
If you went to the outhouse during the day, you could at least see the dreaded thing, be it a spider or sprinkles on the seat. And by seeing, you conquered. But during a nighttime trek to the outhouse, taken only out of desperation, you couldn’t see what you couldn’t see. Which led you to fill in the black hole of knowledge with all sorts of phantoms.
I was expert at doing so, in fact. As a child I had chronic nightmares and hallucinations. A sweet blonde doll that my grandparents had given me blinked at me on many occasions. The thought drove me to such anxiety that my dad had to cover the shelf where she sat with a pillowcase. It stayed hanging there until I was 12. Toys that moved, ghosts that pulled on your hair, bodiless heads that appeared in bathroom mirrors—they all cycled through my mind the way superheroes and Christmas gifts cycled through those of other children.
A fear of the dark “begins in childhood as a fear of the unexpected,” says Thomas Ollendick, a child psychologist at Virginia Tech. Note he says begins in childhood. Articles online assure readers that yes, noctophobia afflicts adults too. The reason for this, we are told, is evolution: Our ancestors who got spooked in pitch-black woods were more likely to fend off a predator, and thus more likely to survive, and to pass on their fears to us.
Well, okay. But a fear of a hippo or rival tribe serves little use in suburbia. There, fear of the dark becomes dumbly crippling. The same is true about a fear of the unknown, about what tragedy or misfortune might befall us in the future. It serves us, our minds and spirits, no good. That’s why I think Jesus meant for us to focus on today, with its attendant challenges and headaches, so that we can invest our energy in real problems rather than expend it on imagined ones.
One real problem I faced at Girl Scout camp is that in the middle of the night, inevitably, I would need to pee. I found my flashlight next to the metal bed in the middle of the tent, and poked the girl next to me: “Can you come with me?” Pulling on our boots, we fumbled our way out the canvas opening and waved our flashlights around the campsite. No ghosts. Not even a ground squirrel. We yell-whispered while we trudged all the way to the outhouse, and all the way back, before crawling back into our sleeping bags, backsides unbitten.
I remember there was a woman in her 60s who was staying in the camp unit next to ours. Our troop moms had told us she was there alone for the week. She was a veteran scout with short hair who wore a canvas vest with lots of pockets. I imagined her sleeping in one of the platform tents alone, the other three beds empty. At the time I found her behavior odd and unnerving. Why would she—how could she—stay in the woods by herself for an entire week?
Now, with 12 years of scouting behind me, and not one fear having coming true, I don’t find her solitude in the woods so odd anymore. It’s something I’d like to try sometime.
Katelyn Beaty is managing editor of Christianity Today magazine, based in the Chicago suburbs. She's working on a book about women and work/vocation. Find her on Twitter @KatelynBeaty.
You can check out the other de(tales) (so far) here.