Last night my friends and I were discussing the phenomenon of how certain relatively tame images or scenarios can stick in the consciousness of children, and haunt the subconscious throughout life.
For my partner, it was a mysterious glowing object that he saw out his bedroom window one night. He admits it must have been the glow-in-the-dark ball he lost somewhere on the property, but when he looked around for it the next day, there was no ball to be found. The apparition returned the following night, mysteriously vanishing when he searched again in daylight. It’s perhaps not the greatest mystery of our time, but the glowing object became a frequent and sinister visitor in his dreams for many years after.
My friend, as a child, was disturbed by the cave in Pooh’s Grand Adventure: The Search for Christopher Robin. According to the storyline, the cave is supposed to have the shape of a skull, although my friend saw it as a grisly, screaming face. I’ve only watched this movie as an adult, and when the suspenseful reveal of the cave happened, my friend gasped (from the imprinted shock of it from his childhood), but I could only see it as a plain old cave. We had to pause the movie for me to begin to see a semblance of a face.
One of the most memorable phantoms from my own childhood came from a book of illustrated Bible stories for children that we had growing up. One of the last pages had a drawing of the Son of Man as he’s described at the beginning of Revelation:
“The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.”
My advice would be to avoid the temptation to draw a metaphor, especially if it’s for kids. It’s not helpful, and you’ll only end up with something truly terrifying (which, now that I think about it, might have been what they were going for). My sister and I used to open up the book just to look at that one page, because it was the kind of macabre you wanted to look at for longer. Jesus, levitating, blanched face and hair, red, vacant eyes, the blade of a sword protruding from his open mouth. I searched everywhere for the picture online, but this is the closest I could find. The internet may not know what it looked like, but I will never forget.
These memories imbed themselves in our minds, lurking there years after we think we’ve rid ourselves of irrational fears and childish ghosts. If any of these had been seen for the first time today, they never would’ve become this weird, concealed part of us. My partner, if he saw a glowing object in the yard tonight, either would go investigate in the darkness, or would vaguely wonder what it was but not care enough to bother checking. My friend might have reacted to the cave as I did, with more observation than astonishment. And if I had seen that illustration for the first time as an adult, I would comment that it was gruesome and not appropriate for children (especially if you wanted them to love Jesus).
But we didn’t experience these things today. So now, occasionally rearing their heads in unexpected places, they live with us forever.