The first time it was loud scratching that pulled me from a deep sleep. Before I could nudge my husband awake and turn on the lamp, the terrified squirrel had jumped from the wall near the bed to a wall further away. I watched him rapidly scale the reclaimed barn wood of our cabin bedroom loft. By first light, our patience and brooms had prevailed. We guided him toward an open door, relieved that he ran toward the nearest Lodgepole pine.
The second time we were sleeping with a squirrel, it was more unsettling. We were away on business and got a call from the person looking after our house. He said he’d encountered a frantic squirrel in our house when he arrived to check it.
Realizing a squirrel was with us the night before we left, I found frightening. I’d gotten up at 4:00 a.m. to write, moving between floors from our bedroom to my office. Where was he then? There’d been workmen in our house that day and that must have been how he got in. Still, how was it possible he escaped detection that night and the entire next day while we packed and cleaned before we left? Where was he lurking?
The cabin-squirrel startled me, certainly, but we could see and work with him; plus one expects critters from time to time in an off-the-grid cabin. But a squirrel wandering our real house while we slept and worked, was entirely different. The thought itself has haunted me.
Thinking about our squirrels, I’ve come to realize that life can feel like those encounters. If we know what we’re facing, we can figure out how to deal with it; when we don’t know, we can’t. Not knowing that a menace even exists, is lurking or ready to come out from the shadows into our life, doesn’t make us any healthier, stronger, or safer.
“What you don’t know won’t hurt you,” the saying goes. But, it’s often the not knowing that does. It was better to hear my father’s early onset Alzheimer’s diagnosis, albeit difficult, than to continue to imagine what might be coming. Knowing enabled us to better support him and come together as a family to manage his care. Not knowing if you have a serious illness or will lose your job because your company is closing, may provide you a false sense of being okay, but it certainly won’t help you solve those problems.
Knowing what you’re dealing with, seeing the monster in the light, helps. Otherwise, the what-ifs can take over, increasing sleepless nights, heightening worries, adding stress, and stirring embers that may never ignite. Without knowing, your mind creates the equivalent of irrational fears about what might be lurking in the shadows of life? What might be coming?
In the scheme of things, I’ve decided, for me, that knowing is much better – at least about most things. In the words of author Idown Koyenikan, “Mindless fear is greater than mindful fear.” The next time I’m sleeping indoors with a squirrel, give me that mindful fear, please.