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©Betty Luceigh, 3/29/15

On trash-day in the country,
bears and raccoons play dictators
to put trash out only hours before pickup.
The trash bags in my garage high up the hill
travel in my car to the street trash-bin below,
my dog running alongside,
our trash-day routine.

Mornings are dark outside this time of year.
I park the car with lights on
to see as I transfer my bags,
last week’s trash from car to bin,
while my dog with his own neck light
begins sniffing and marking his street turf.

Finished, I bend over to leash my dog
to walk him further along the main road,
when my peripheral vision sees motion.
I turn my head quickly to see a figure,
up aways, at the first sharp curve in the road,
a tall, thin man dressed in dark clothing,
a hoodie shielding details of his face,
his own long-haired black dog on a leash,
both standing very, very still.

Startled, I cry out “hello, hello”,
but there is no response.
My alarm grows with scenarios of danger ahead,
only briefly wondering if it was just a deer
interrupted in its grazing,
but it is clearly human.

I start to look at my dog for his reaction,
but quickly see the peripheral motion again,
look to find the figure ahead stepping back
as if to hide in the wild roadside bushes.
“Hello”, I shout again, again no response.

My fear fully aroused, I rush back to the car,
safety sought within locked doors.
My unleashed dog eagerly runs back toward the house
as I turn the car lights toward the stranger
who by then has had time to leave.

Locked in my house, I begin to calm.
The sun is slowly rising, abating dark fears.
I go about my morning routine,
feeling I have had a warning
of potential dangers in the predawn darkness.

Mid-morning while taking a short rest
I hear the trash truck far below
and the truth suddenly awakens within me:
“It was my OWN shadow I saw
and I did not recognize it!”

I reinterpret the scene,
realizing the penumbra of my car lights,
the elongation of my own distorted shadow,
the movements as my own mirroring,
and my dog, the biggest clue before me,
not smelling this imagined stranger,
not protective of me for there was no need.

I did not recognize my own shadow!
I feared it in my limited interpretation!
I ran away from it!

The metaphor makes me laugh at myself
and feel foolish as well,
while the lesson is deep and clear:
There are difficult memories within the mind,
accessible by only a few pathways
of synapses tangled to diminish awareness of trauma.
These are the memories named the “shadow self”,
living in our autobiography as ill-defined reflections,
hidden by barriers of neurons re-routed to fear.

It is our nature to fear these shadows,
to run for safety as if the truth could annihilate us.
Yet to refuse to look at our own darkness
is to live in subliminal fear of ourselves.
To live in such fear is to refuse to be fully alive!
Fear requires effort to sustain,
inhibits our innate longing
to humbly accept ourselves as we truly are–
that is, to love ourselves.

On trash-days now,
I imagine shadows of myself,
as surely as the one seen by the road,
that are no longer in my mind,
but having been revealed,
are now in black bags thrown into the bin.