As a child, my family returned to the home of my father’s older sister (who had raised him) for every long weekend and holiday, despite a six-hour drive on often treacherous North Country roads. The old clapboard house’s bones creaked and groaned in the night as I lay awake facing the door on the living room couch in the semi-darkness created by a nearby streetlight. Watching the brass knob for signs of a telltale turn that might signal the entry of another malevolent force I feared lurked just outside the puny plaster façade.
Inevitably the shadows also danced across three porcelain monkeys that sat on a shelf as if held aloft by the rabbit ears on the TV below, one with paws cupped over its eyes, the next over its ears, the last over its mouth. “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil,” the monkeys gestured, a kind of family anthem, from atop their hand-crocheted doilies. Straight out of casting from a Stephen King flick, as I pulled the blanket taut under my chin, simultaneously studying the knob on the door for evidence of security breached.
But it was not the horrors of the night that most haunted my imagination in these otherwise rather Norman Rockwell-like interludes literally and liberally sweetened by my aunt’s extraordinary culinary talents, but the two subterranean beings that lived and breathed in a place I feared I might never muster the courage to go. The first was a pony, a golden Shetland, the kind I’d been coveting since first glimpsing its caramel blur through a car window while passing a stable near our home to the south. The kind I knew better than to beg for out loud, but nonetheless dared to pray. The second? A big, black, vicious, dentally endowed dog, dedicated to guarding the stairs to the cellar where the Shetland reputedly lived.
This is the story my father and uncle apparently concocted to keep my brother and I from exploring the root cellar that fascinated me where my aunt feared we would break our necks on the steep, uneven, narrow, poorly lit stairs descending through a tunnel of shelves lined with cans of Campbell Soup, Green Giant corn and peas, and various homemade jams and pickles. Stocked in from the Depression Days, no doubt, ballast against the inevitable return of hungry times or a-bomb droppings.
I wanted that pony more than a piano, straight hair, pretty feet, or, you know, an end to the Cold War. And although the adults’ answers to my continual questions about why they had banished the pony in the first place did not add up and, already intimately acquainted with my relatives’ proclivity for bending the truth, I wasn’t completely sure about the dog either, the possible stakes nonetheless loomed.
At times, I am sorry to report, I tried to convince my brother (a year younger) to come with me to find out, cajoling him to walk ahead–hungry-dog bait—but he was no fool. Inevitably I would have to venture first, dragging him behind toward the bray of the pony we swore we heard. Although we never made it more than three or four steps before we caught the gleaming red-hot eyes of that dog, illuminated by the single dangling light bulb, turned, and ran for our lives back up the stairs and out into the yard, screaming our heads off.
I mention this because this memory recently came back to me in all its dubious Technicolor splendor as I found myself standing outside the threshold of my imaginary inner teacher’s sanctum in freeze-frame, as if paralyzed for seeming minutes, hours, days, decades, lifetimes, without a single brother beside me to possibly wheedle into serving as human shield. Desire for the buttery light of our uninterrupted, eternally innocent Wholeness he holds seeping out from under that apparently closed door reverberating through every fiber of my seeming being, along with palpable horror of the monster I apparently must vanquish to reach it.
For minutes, hours, days, decades, lifetimes in my waking dream, every time I caught myself feeling victimized by the cold, the snow, the ice, my bodily issues, the larger world’s ever spiraling downward trajectory, the failure of other dream figures and situations to deliver on their promises, I reminded myself, as A Course in Miracles inner teacher gently urges us to, that nothing outside my mind has the power to take my peace away. But every time I attempted to follow our right mind’s light, that eternal pony that would carry me and every seeming child wandering this earth frightened and alone home, I caught the smoldering eyes of that dog.
Those punishing, threatening, warning eyes seemed so real, those teeth so sharp, that mighty jaw so crushing and salivating, I dared not step closer. And yet, unlike the child I had been at five and six years old, I knew now the real object of my desire at the root of every false idol here in dreamland, really existed. Not in the pretty package of a pony, but in its abstract, shining, ever-expanding, all-encompassing, loving light. And I knew that my aversion had nothing to do with these imaginary “hungry dogs of fear” the Course talks about in the Obstacles to Peace, Chapter 19, but with the secret guilt I had buried in my mind over believing the “tiny, mad, idea” (emphasis on the word mad) that I could throw my real (our real) and only innocent Self away and flee our Father’s love, creating a “shabby substitute” of a world wherein the objects of our desire can only be purchased at the price of our very seeming lives.
I knew my paralysis had nothing to do with any real adversary threatening me. But with the unreal, unspoken vow I had made to the ego never to return to the decision-making mind and look at that false belief with the part of our mind that never took that childish fantasy seriously and continues to patiently wait for me to join him beyond that door.
And still I stood, eyes riveted on that light streaming beneath my teacher’s door, aware that a part of me still clings to those childish fantasies, has not quite grown into our inner teacher’s certainty that stepping fully, completely into that enveloping light will heal all wounds, sate all appetites, and satisfy all desire. Nonetheless I stood, suddenly OK with exactly where I was. Stripped of this exhausting conflict, endowed with my teacher’s (our teacher’s) assurance that maybe I was just where I needed to be right now; that pushing myself to reach for that doorknob while I could still smell that dog would never work. But waiting for my mistaken, childish belief to subside, eyes firmly fixed on the light of all I wanted, remembering our teacher’s gentleness, infinite patience, and unwavering assurance that I (we) cannot possibly in a million seeming lifetimes fail to find it, will.
“Realize that your forgiveness entitles you to vision. Understand that the Holy Spirit never fails to give the gift of sight to the forgiving. Believe He will not fail you now. You have forgiven the world. He will be with you as you watch and wait. He will show you what true vision sees. It is His Will, and you have joined with Him. Wait patiently for Hm. He will be there. The light has come. You have forgiven the world.
Tell him you know you cannot fail because you trust in Him. And tell yourself you wait in certainty to look upon the world He promised you. From this time forth you will see differently. Today the light has come. And you will see the world that has been promised you since time began, and in which is the end of time ensured.”
–(A Course in Miracles workbook lesson 75, “The light has come.”)
Susan Dugan’s books Extraordinary Ordinary Forgiveness, Forgiveness Offers
Everything I Want, and Forgiveness: The Key to Happiness are available at RMMC and on Amazon. She writes about ACIM based on Ken Wapnick’s teachings at ForaysInForgiveness.com and teaches Tuesday nights at RMMC.