Courage Born From Disobedience aka I Used To Be Afraid Of The Dark

Fears… phobias are just a few of the things we often keep close to our hearts. We don’t like to talk about them for fear others will ridicule us or worse, use the knowledge against us. Fear is a powerful thing; it’s enough to start entire revolutions – or stifle them. Fear can win wars or lose them. And yet sometimes the smallest thing can help spark the courage you need to overcome that fear. I used to be afraid of the dark. “Used to be” because I’m not anymore. In fact, anyone who knows me knows I now prefer a dark room and night time to day time. All for one simple, ridiculous reason.

From the 7th grade onwards I developed an insatiable appetite for reading. This was a localised fascination, it had to be fantasy (and largely still is) simply because of the creativity it inspired within me. *I’ll discuss how I became fond of reading in tomorrow’s post.* However high school loomed and the work grew more intense. I would no longer have the countless hours to pore though fantasy and science fiction novels the size of dictionaries day in, day out. I had to be realistic. This is what my parents told me.

“Focus on school, read the books later.”

Now I know what you’re thinking. This post is about fear of the dark, what does it have to do with reading novels and high school? Firstly let me rephrase the term “fear of the dark”. I possessed (especially in my younger years) a quite incredible imagination as often is the case with youth. All I needed was space and time to create whatever universe my whims led me to. I only fell just short of the imagination Oscar for never having had an imaginary friend. I had an imaginary army but never the one friend who would take up space at the table etc for that would have been near suicidal. It was this intense imagination coupled with the housekeeper’s fascination with horror movies, ones I had to watch with her at all costs, that made me fear the dark for a long time… yes even into my teens.

So I would sleep with the light on. “I need to read,” was the typical response. It wasn’t nearly as intense as the phobia I wrote about earlier in my blog though. So long as I was already in bed with my eyes shut, I’d have been fine. But that was rarely the case so the light stayed on… until I was told to stop reading novels at night. I had to wake up early in the morning since my bus to school left at 0630. Immediately my mind went into detective mode because the love for reading was too great to let go instantaneously, much less for something as mundane as waking up on time for school. How to beat the system? That’s what I pondered for a few hours at most. The answer finally came.

“Good night. I’m going to sleep.”

Then I would switch off my light, proof that I was actually sleeping… only to go into my  blankets, produce my latest novel from under the pillow and switch on my Nokia’s torch. This is how I read Stephenie Meyer’s ‘New Moon’ in one night. I did this often enough that the fear of the dark evaporated. I needed the dark for me to do what I loved; read. And I read. I went through 6 to 8 books a month this way. In a school of 700 students the librarian new my name and would set aside new books for me to devour. So repetitive and exciting was the new habit that even my study habits tweaked to accommodate this mindset so that even now I’m extremely productive in the hours from late evening to early morning.

And that’s it. I told my parents about it a while ago and they had a laugh. It was silly beyond belief. But one can’t deny that it got rid of an unnecessary, hindering fear… even if it may have replaced it with a less than necessary habit. The young man no longer feared the dark… he was just borderline useless early in the morning.

An Example Of Excellent Parenting

This is why I cannot accept defeat in failure

In the summer of 2006 (normally winter in the northern hemisphere) my parents attended their first Parent – Teacher Consultation at my new school. I’d moved a few months prior and had just received the worst report card in my, then short, academic life. Their response to the ordeal they faced is just one of many reasons why I feel blessed to be their son.

The backdrop of the story is this. I’d previously attended a government run school for the first four years of my primary education. Consisting of nearly fifty students a class it was quite competitive at the top end. Yet with their influence, great teaching and, I believe, some natural talent (as well as ‘luck’) a young Ayanda Joe Munikwa came top of the class on three separate occasions in the four years I was there. The joy of my first prize giving ceremony will come later, maybe tomorrow?  We’ll see. Anyway I’d been moved to a private school. My parents had invested a great deal of money because they wanted what was best for me. Personally in their shoes I would have bought a new car, tv or something; but not them. They did this only to see me failing at nearly everything I touched. I was below mediocre. I’m embarrassed to admit that I was so confused at the time I thought “dictionary” and “diary” were synonymous (story filed for yet another day). It seemed like nothing was going according to plan.

So with all this having occurred, my parents dressed smartly for the Consultation. If you thought I was a fish out of water, you should have seen their more than slightly nervous expressions as they exchanged looks. They looked gorgeous by the way, no bias. Anyway they headed in to the classroom at their appointed time to meet my teacher; The One Who Shall Not Be Named.

I’m sure you picked up the Voldermort link. I still talk to one of my closest friends, who was in the same class with me back then, about him. Maybe it was the stress of twenty odd kids looking fresh faced and seeming not to understand anything. Or maybe it was the stress of the impending inflation that was even then gnawing at every working adult’s pockets. Maybe he was just naturally bitter and mean. But boy did he love taking it out on us and anyone he came across. His personality was as blunt as his face, but I appreciate him now because even he has turned around. (A story for ANOTHER day)

The man I spoke of above was the man they were going to meet. I was convinced he hated me. When they came back and told me what he had said I was even more convinced. Apparently I was “beyond help” and, to put it bluntly, “stupid”. He was also perplexed as to how I passed the entrance exam in the first place. I was apparently one of his worst students. While they recounted his words I could see in their eyes two things, pain being one of them. But even deeper, even at that young age I could see it, the second thing, resolution.

“I know you. You’re my intelligent boy! My genius! Maybe you didn’t do so well this time but I trust you more than I trust this teacher. Final exams are coming up. Go show them what you’re made of.”

I didn’t cry in their presence, even then I tended not to do that. But I did when I was alone in my room afterwards. Then I made a conscious decision to kick ass in school, prove my parents right and my teacher wrong.

Needless to say I came first. Every year for the next three years of my primary school education. Even when they introduced streaming in the sixth grade where the “top students” from both classes were merged into a separate class. Oh I also broke their (then) recent record for the National Exam. This isn’t me just mollycoddling my ego, this is just to prove a point. None of those meagre achievements would have been possible if my parents had chosen to withdraw their love and support.

Sure there are different ways to approach the problem – the problem of my plummeting grades after sending me to a supposedly better school. But I believe they chose the right way, not only because of the exam results that followed but because of the opinion of them that was formed in my mind that day… one I still hold to this very day. And one I hope to inspire in my own children in the future.