The World Unseen
Updated: Feb 22
By Matt Gordon
On a visit to an impoverished country, I found myself awake. Sleepless. There in the neglected hours, I wasn’t contemplating my fellow human’s plight, nor was I resolving to make a difference in the world. Honestly, I just had to pee.
The complicated part of that, for me at least, is that I don’t see well in the dark. I could illustrate this a hundred ways, but I’d prefer if you just trust me on this—if dark, I will Magoo my way into walls, tumble down flights of stairs, and stub my toes on any conceivable obstacle. Sometimes all in one trip to the bathroom. I was first made aware of this problem when, as a toddler, I toddled, as one does, into a toy dump truck. As I fell, the truck bed performed its “dumping” motion and my lip got acquainted with the metallic truck bed to the tune of six stitches. A bit later in life, I ran full-steam into a chain-link fence during an outdoor game of hide-and-seek-in-the-dark. I hit the fence with enough force to cause red square indentations on my little crying face. Also, I got tagged. Insult. Injury. And indentation. Rough all the way around. I could go on recounting hapless nocturnal misadventures, but if I go on too long it may get dark on me here, only adding to the ledger.
On the night in question, with my wife peacefully sleeping in our shared room, I didn’t want to turn the light on, so I took it slow and tried not to curse aloud when tripped up. In this fashion,
I felt my way to the men’s restroom of the mission’s dormitory, on down the hall. Once inside, the glow of the nightlight made me think about taking it easy on my sleepy eyes and risking a misfire, but out of common courtesy to whoever might come in next, I decided it best to flip the light on and make sure my aim was true.
The light flooded the room. CUE THE HORROR MUSIC:
I was not alone.
There in the sink was the absolute biggest roach I have ever seen (and I would argue that any human has ever seen). It was like a football with legs. Kids could ride on this thing at the zoo if all the tortoises were booked. Hollow the thing out and keep its shiny shell and a hipster could make one of those tiny houses out of it and probably get a reality TV show. Flip the shell upside down, and BAM! above ground pool for the little ones. Its antennae could double as floaty pool noodles. The sheer immensity of the creature made me feel as if I should ask, “May I help you, sir?”
The roach was massive. Massive. (Yes, we get that, you say. But I want to be sure you do. Also, this is my post, so if I want to spend seven to nine sentences dedicated to the size—huge!—of a particular roach, well, I will and I have. Man, you should have seen the thing.
Who knows, you might still be able to if you look toward the Caribbean; it is pretty hard to miss. If propelled skyward, it would be much like witnessing an eclipse. Huge. Huge!)
I did my business half-turned toward the sink, in case the roach decided to jump me like in an alien movie. I finished up, and, no, I did not wash my hands, but rather kept them raised high, indicating no sudden movements, and inched out of the room. “You walk away and I’ll walk away, friendo.”
Now, again, I cannot see in the dark. And the nightlight in the bathroom had me oh-so-close to not flipping on the main light: Do my thing, wash my hands, and head back to bed. In this scenario, there’s a fair chance I make contact with that enormous roach while hand-washing. And then an epic freak-out would have ensued—I’ll admit it; I’m not proud. I would have woken up that entire house of people. But there is a chance I do my business, wash my hands, and avoid touching the roach. I go back to bed, none-the-wiser to the giant creature I unknowingly encountered or, at least, who encountered me.
But even if I don’t see or touch the roach, it doesn’t change the fact of its existence. Whether the room is dark or not, the roach was there with me, occupying the sink space, watching the water under faucet hit my small, pale hands.
There is no telling how many roaches I’ve missed in the dark. Other things, too: bad things, good things. Even with light, who can say how much I miss on a given day. And those are just the seeable things. What of the unseen things?
For me, it is always pretty easy to craft my own truth based upon what I’ve seen, what I’ve experienced, and turn a blind eye—and blind heart—to everything else. And then I do something even more destructive: I take my own daft blindness and base my view of reality and existence upon it. It is a convenient way to go about life: aloof and dogmatic in the dark.
But no matter how hard I try, I don’t get to craft my own reality: reality is reality. Truth is truth.
My own experiences do not get to dictate what is or what isn’t real, for me or anyone else—at least not absolutely. Truth does not submit to me and my finitude; I must submit to it, roaches and all. Stumble in the dark long enough, and face will meet metallic dump truck or chain-link fence; hands, roaches.
. But that isn’t the way of things, is it? There are myriad bad things out there: crawly things that aren’t much good for anyone. There is evil lurking and villains lying in wait. Better and braver to deal with them.
But there are also good things just behind the veil. Wonderful promises and winsome surprises. There is hope and life and peace. Joy. And there is love. What if I flipped on a light one day and found some benevolent anti-roach. A sage, a wizard, a god. He’d be there extending to me all that I’d been missing and things absent I had been yet too ignorant or self-assured to glimpse. I would wonder what had taken him so long. In a roach-infested world I could have used him.
It turns out he had been there all along. He had been waiting on me, so very near to me the whole time, whispering in the dark the secrets of the light and willing my hand, heart, and mind to seek, see, and find—to turn on the light and see the world unseen.