OUT OF MY ELEMENT
I couldn’t sleep. The scratching sounds inside the wall just inches from my head were back. I’d been hoping it was just mice, but they must have been really big ones; I could hear their weight as they scurried around.
It was my first house, on 16th Avenue South, in a poor, racially diverse neighborhood of South Minneapolis. Not the best area, but it was the only house I could afford, and, after living in a rooming house and mooching rooms from friends, I was more than ready to get on board the home-ownership, equity-building escalator.
I’d only been in the house for a little more than a week. I hadn’t even unpacked. The bed frame still lay in pieces on the floor next to my queen-size mattress.
It was nothing I could see, just this cold, dark, malevolent force.
My welcome to home ownership, so far, had not been an especially warm one. Besides the creepiness of having who knows how many and what kind of animals scratching inside my walls, I’d also had to deal with six inches of fetid raw sewage backing up into my basement, not to mention being awakened at 2am one night by a man staggering along the street, screaming, “Oh God! They stabbed me in the face!”
I was already beginning to miss the murmur of neighbors’ lives that comes with sharing your building, realizing now how comforting that proximity had been.
AN UNWELCOME VISITOR
As I lay there in the dark, all these unsettling things churning in my mind, it occurred to me just how alone, how uncentered, I felt. It hit me really hard. Above me, the pitched walls of the finished attic space seemed to fall in on me, stirring a twinge of claustrophobia.
Then I felt a sensation I’d never experienced before. In the course of 10 or 15 seconds, a presence poured into the room, coming from everywhere at once. It was an aura that clearly was not of me, but surrounded and consumed me. It was nothing I could see, just this cold, dark, malevolent force.
Whatever it was seemed to be going right for my core, trying to inhabit my sense of myself. I’d never fully appreciated, until that moment, just how much I’d always taken for granted that sense, that nucleus of warmth, light, and innocence that normally animates our thoughts and actions. I’d never before seen what it looked like to lose it.
For lack of a better characterization for something so devoid of kindness or love, the image that came to mind was one formed, I’m sure, when I was a child: “the devil.” I could hear myself thinking that, and couldn’t quite grasp that it was all real and not a scene from a book or movie. But it was as real as any spiritual essence I’d ever felt. And I was so frightened I couldn’t move.
Even the faint light that had been seeping into the room from the streetlights outside now seemed swallowed by the all-consuming pall.
Okay, I thought, maybe I’m just feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the recent changes in my life. Maybe if I just try to think about something else, the dread will go away. But whatever it was, it was not going to allow such diversions. Even the faint light that had been seeping into the room from the streetlights outside now seemed swallowed by the all-consuming pall.
THE EBB OF EVIL
I felt like a drowning man clawing for something to hold on to. I was able to say the name of my black lab, Bess, who’d been lightly snoring on her blanket just across the room. I knew that, if she’d come to me, somehow her spirit could help rescue mine.
I tried to call her again, louder this time, but the sound just seemed to stay inside my head. I was devastated that she wasn’t there for me, but then realized with a chill that she too must be feeling this presence. Her snoring had stopped. I couldn’t see her, but I sensed she was awake.
I don’t think of myself as a religious man, at least not in the conventional sense. But at that moment, prayer seemed perfectly consistent with my animist leanings. So I prayed; I prayed really hard. I asked the Creator of all that’s good, true and beautiful to save me from this alienation and restore that certainty, that inner light I’d always taken for granted before.
There was no doubt, no ambiguity, no hesitation. A new presence wrapped around me like the softest, warmest blanket. As that warmth swaddled me, it also filled me, and the chill, that profound darkness, began flowing out of the room—and out of me—as it had come in.
Bess’s tongue, like the kiss of angels, welcomed me back to where I knew I belonged.
LAP OF LUXURY
I lay there for a minute, still awestruck by what had happened, basking in the glow of that beneficent spirit. I felt a different kind of warmth; it was wet too, bathing my cheek. Bess’s tongue, like the kiss of angels, welcomed me back to where I knew I belonged.
I’ve often wished animals could talk, but never more than at that moment. Had Bess felt what I’d felt? Did she even have a sense of self? Had this kindly spirit intervened for her too?
I don’t suppose I’ll ever find answers to those questions, nor to why I was visited by that dark, hopeless spirit. I’ve not caught an inkling of it since. Now that I’m aware of my true essence and understand that it’s not to be taken for granted, I spend more time appreciating it, nurturing it, celebrating it.
I pray every day, and ask God to help me be in a sort of permanent state of prayer, humbly, gratefully aware, throughout the day, of how it feels to lose sight of his grace.