Sometimes an idea builds inside like a kind of spiritual pressure, threatening to overwhelm the holder, even consume him. This happened to me about ten years ago. I had been writing short stories over the past year. There was no thought to what they might be used for or why I was writing them, just when they came up, I would commit them to paper. It was only recently that I even understood their purpose, and their power in my life.
Each story had a single color as its title. The first was Gray, the Kafkaesque tale of a man lost in a featureless city. Another was Yellow, about an antique’s dealer consumed slowly each night by a dead cat representing his contradictory life.
The story that began to overwhelm me, I later called Black. It started as only a seed of a feeling, a bit of undefined anxiety. I would wake at night with a deep, unexplainable fear. Everything was going well in my life and I had no reason to feel this way. I pushed it aside, ignoring it as just general anxiety about life. But it grew stronger until it began to consume me, holding a kind of opaque fabric in front of my vision.
I lost quite a bit of sleep, lying there, desperately trying to push the horrible feelings away, running from this undefinable dark fog. Out of desperation on the third night, I got up, my stomach in a deeply clenched knot and sat in front of my computer and began to write. Without thinking about it, the words began to pour out of my fingers and instead of feeling relief and peace, the way I usually do when I sit down to write, the fear grew worse. I realized there was no way around this feeling, that the only way out, was through the blackness. I was terrified.
With a deep breath, I dove into the bleak feeling and for the first time, touched it. The best I can describe it, was like a kind of river flowing beneath the surface of my life, a river of unexplored pain. I dipped my hand into that river, touching its icy thickness. The fear and anxiety only grew worse, and I knew what I must do in that moment. I had to jump in.
The story began to flow like nothing else I had ever written before, nothing related to my life, as if I were a completely different person releasing this horrible and dark crime that had been eating at me, consuming me with guilt until I couldn’t bear it anymore.
The entire story came out that night, in one marathon sitting. And when I laid done the final period I was free. The fear had left me, replaced with a deep sense of gratitude and wonder at life. I had dove through that river of pain and had been cleansed by its fire, rising up on the other side a different, better person.
I’ve put the short story online here, if you would like to read it. It is surreal and personal, without any reference in my life. I read it now, still wondering where it can from, or why I wrote it, not really sure what it means. I only know that I had to write it, had to release it, or would have been consumed by it.
I think we misunderstand fear, shying away from it, avoiding the pain it represents. And when that suggests bodily injury, that’s probably wise, a mechanism for keeping us safe, built into our DNA. But there is another kind of fear, that which we need to embrace. It holds a deep kind of meaning on the other side of its invisible veil; we must leap the chasm with only our faith to keep us aloft. And on the other side is peace, growth, understanding, and maybe if we are lucky, a bit of wisdom.