By Cindy Koch –
“RUN!” Brian screamed. A startled pack of neighborhood children scattered across the dark foggy grass. I remember tripping over my younger next door neighbor, Andy, and skidding across the black damp lawn. Several terrified lengths behind the safety of the frightened group, I was exposed. Screeching tires pierced the deathly quiet night, and I knew they were coming for me. Trembling and clumsily finding my balance, I peeked over my shoulder to see how much time I had to hide. But just as I looked back, a rusty mud-stained Ford pick-up swung its evil headlights around that fatal house on the corner of my street.
In that half-a-second glance back, I locked eyes with one of the several men in the bed of the truck. He was standing, along with four or five others, gripping the cold grey metal cab and wildly swinging a sharp steel pipe. His fierce stare found me, and he pointed that torturous tool at my fearfully convulsing body. I was still trying to feel my legs, so that I could heed the call to run away. The truck paused in a moment of shifting momentum but straightened its deadly focus right back to me.
All I can do is run. I can’t scream, hot air just whispers past my frantic vocal chords. No one can hear me, I can’t make a sound. But, now my legs don’t seem to sync with one another and I can’t move fast enough to escape. I hear the roaring engine pursuing my lame efforts, getting closer and closer until…
I wake up.
And yes, this is one of the delightful childhood nightmares I relived night after night, tucked into my Holly Hobby sheets, on the second floor of my little yellow house in Denver, Colorado. I remember playing kickball and tag in the very same soft green grass by day, and yet I was chased by monstrous evil men over slimy black lawns by night.
But there were the nights when I wouldn’t let myself go to sleep, to yet again be chased with loud trucks and screaming men. I would lay completely still in my childhood bed, barely breathing for fear that the murderers would hear me. Yes, they would craftily open the garage door, which was located directly under my bedroom, and use my dad’s ladder to creep to the ceiling of the dark garage. Because they were murderers, of course they carried long swords. They surely knew where my bed was positioned in my room. And I waited, with shallow and silent breath, for the murderers to plunge their sword upwards… and kill me as I slept.
I soon realized as a child that I could not escape the terror. Especially at night. Whether it was in my vivid nightmares or in my drowsy imagination, I was scared of evil. I even remember the very first time death showed his nasty deeds to my understanding. Animated forest creatures lovingly played out a Romeo and Juliet type scene. At the end, I was enthralled until the little sweet bunny rabbit took her life. A beautiful pink ghost bunny ascended from a limp lifeless lump in the grass. Horror struck me then and there. That bunny was never coming back. Death was horrible and scary, and it was forever.
Years passed, nightmares faded into realities on the evening news. I grew up a little and I guess my fears focused on other things. But that dread of death always hangs around my neck, whether it’s flying on a plane or discovering a health abnormality. Then when my children were born, a new set of daily anxieties entered my mind. But one night, when my little baby Karra ran from the dark shadows with tear stained eyes, I remembered again the overwhelming uncertainties in the night. By adulthood I guess I had learned to suppress the immediate dread of death, at least out loud. Her raw emotion sent me back to the black wet grass, where I couldn’t scream and I couldn’t run.
As I listened to the twisted tale of murderers she saw in her nightmare, there was something more that I recognized in this darkness. It took me by surprise. She cried, but I saw light. I looked my terrified baby in the eyes and said, “Karra, you are baptized. That darkness can’t catch you.”
This world flaunts its cruel and devastating end, even to the wide-eyed unlearned children. We grow up and learn to hide it, or ignore it, or overcome the terror of death. But the reality is we can’t. There is always another nightmare out there, ready to chase us. But we’re not going to run anymore.
The One who died and rose, He is the light in my nightmare. He is the One who delivered me from the murky damp grass. He turns my silent screams into rejoicing and my broken legs to dancing. He has not forgotten His terrified child. He has defeated death, and I am not afraid.
O God, from whom come all holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works, give to us, Your servants, that peace which the world cannot give, that our hearts may be set to obey Your commandments and also that we, being defended from the fear of our enemies, may live in peace and quietness; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. (Vespers Collect for Peace)