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Essays by Karen Anderson: Misunderstanding

Illustration by Kacie Brown

Years ago, a friend told me a story about a time when her young son became ill. “You have diarrhea,” she told him, “and the best thing to do is rest and drink liquids.” She tucked him into bed and he looked up at her with big eyes, “And when will I die?” he asked.

He had only heard that part of the word and was trying to be brave. Every time I recall this story, I am tearful to think of that frightened boy—whose fears were needless but very real in that moment.

The world is such a big place when you’re a child with so many mysteries and threats and dangers. So many misunderstandings.

When I was young, I was afraid to go to bed and once again, it was because of a word. The adults always talked about “falling asleep” but I was afraid of falling. Indeed, they were the ones who cautioned me about falling down, saying that I might get hurt, and sometimes I did.

My mother finally figured it out and explained that falling asleep happened in my mind, a gentle delicious tumbling into dreams. Even now, when sleep eludes me, I listen for her calming voice, telling me it was just a misunderstanding, that everything is all right.

Karen Anderson contributes "Essays by Karen Anderson" to Interlochen Public Radio.