“Daddy, check my closet, leave on the bathroom light
I smile and say ‘All clear’ when I tuck him in for the night
But Daddy, I’m still scared, can I sleep with you instead…”

                He comes to us most nights now.  I am a light sleeper, and when he becomes restless, it always seems that I’m near awake as well.  I hear him turn—the creak and crack of his wooden bed frame—or his little body rolling against the wall that separates our room, a different creak of the bed when he rises and the sound of door dragging faint across hallway carpet as he makes his way out from his room. 

                Sometimes he calls for me, sometimes for his mother.  It is a high voice of a little boy, soft as not to wake us too harshly, but even in its softness, we can hear his little strain of mind.  If we do not answer at first, he is persistent until one of us finally rises to attend to his concerns. 

                “Can you close my closet?” he asks.  That is where his monsters live, and so long as its door is closed, his room and bed are safe again.  He grabs his cloak of safety, a square blue blanket of fleece with satin trim that restores his comfort in body and mind.  I tuck him in, and he is soon asleep again. 

                Other nights, this is not enough, and he finds his way between his mother and I.  These nights, his entrance feels more a dream and becomes full-real only when I wake to feel and see him close beside me: the warmth of his body near mine and the rhythm of his little boy breaths moving slight the sheets that warm us all.  These days, when he and mother are sound, I rise and begin my days alone.

                I think of his age, this life moment, and even with the nightly interruptions, I am grateful for this experience.  I know it will not last for long, and to be a hero, a slayer and protector from monsters, this is a title I will gladly carry for the moment I may be this in his mind.  One day he will see his monsters are not real.  One day he will see too, that I cannot protect him from every fear, but as his assurance in one builds to his belief in the second, I accept and embrace his young conviction in both.  

                I know he is not alone in his imagination, the creation of his own monsters.  I was the same at his age, and I wonder if I am any different.  Even as adults, our imaginations can deceive, and the troubles in our life are not always what we think we see. 

                We all imagine monsters.

                I’ve imagined mine in many forms. 

                I imagined monsters in faraway lands, and in my searching found mostly simple people wanting foremost to be left alone to their own way and means of life.  It did not make the bullets, bombs, or threats any less real, but the storyline was changed.  I saw that world for what it was and not the story sold at home.  The problems were of men, not monsters, and wherever monsters lurk, it was not there.  I wondered on the monster of war and how much of it continues simply because we do not leave: is conflict eternal, or does it live only so long as we breathe life into its form? 

                I look at our present world, and I wonder how many of our monsters live only by our desire to prove them real rather than let them die in the biases and dreams where they began.

                Of my own monsters: I imagined enmity where there was love, abandonment when I was never alone.  I’ve held to bitterness when I should have let it free.  I perceived disrespect where none was meant and empowered it in actions after.

                There were times I drank and made my monsters real.  It was a monster few saw, but he was very real to me.  I told others he was there, and they dismissed me when I spoke.  Nobody believed, but always he came back.  He haunted me in days after, when I wondered what I did.  Darkness shadowed my heart, my memory, and mood.  Darkness distanced me from those I loved.  I saw no means of an escape, and the darkness nearly won.

                I was broken, empty, and felt little in my heart.  Sometimes, it is only in our darkness where we begin to see true light.  God, a Holy Spirit, Love—call it what you want—it was in this light, my monster burned away.  The light broke his hold and lessened the darkness in my heart and mind.  The light shone as a sanctuary: a place to rest, breathe, and the more I walked in the direction of its seeming source, the greater shadows kept at bay.  Only in the light could I again believe my monster wasn’t there, that I was—and still am—good, loved, worthy of mercy and forgiveness. 

                He was only a little baby then, never knew the power that he held, but it was he that helped me through.  We shared many nights together in darkness: the darkness of my spirit and the darkness of his room.  It was I that rose and went to him back then.  I held and rocked him beside his crib when he cried out in the night, feeding bottle when he did.  I felt his warmth and the wonder of his miracle in my arms and against my chest.  I remember still when his eyes would open and study deep my own, and the times he kept them closed and returned immediately to rest.  It was he who loved me when I did not love myself.  I felt it every night in the darkness when it was only us.  It was his little smile, his undimmed joy that restored again the light and miracle of my own.

                There is nothing darker than a heart that does not love itself, and only when light—Love—is cast upon it, warming and waking it again, can its reconciliation with self begin. 

                It was his new-life love, a love without judgment or condition, that saved me.  For this, I am forever indebted and will pay him back for as long as I am blessed and able.

                He is still asleep this morning.  I walk into his room and study his growing, but still small, body in rest.  I pray God blesses him, gives to him the love and mercy I myself have found.  I pray He holds as Light when his own world makes monsters beyond this room.  I know that they will come, and also that they aren’t real—if we keep our eyes and hearts in light. 

                I thank God for this morning, for every wonder in my life that a monster nearly stole away.  I am grateful.  I am blessed, and as he sleeps…

“…I kneel down beside my little man, and I bow my head.

Anymore when a restless feelin’ keeps me up at night
Fallin’ on my knees is my new turnin’ on the light
I keep my faith intact, make sure my prayers are said
‘Cause I’ve learned that the monsters ain’t the ones beneath the bed.
I’ve learned that the monster ain’t underneath the bed…”

    —Eric Church