They say that darkness is the abscence of light. They make it sound as if darkness is something waiting to be filled - like an empty mug sitting next to a coffee pot. They say this with all confidence, as if they've experienced every variation of darkness, and could never be surprised by it. I would argue, though, that they've never seen darkness like this.

This is darkness so complete that it seems to be both expanding infinitely, and insessantly pressing down into you - consuming every available crevice. This is darkness so thick that out of desperation you might reach your hand out in hopes of pushing it away to reveal light. This is not a darkness that simply fills space that is devoid of light - it is a real darkness that both inhabits and controls space.

This, most unfortunately, is the darkness that surrounds James Dophner. James sits - floats, rather - on a raft in the middle of the ocean. Now, James' story is not one of heroism or adventure. He did not survive a plane crash; he did not dive in after his true love; he truly did not venture into the ocean with any sort of courage or valor. James, the dear boy, simply needed to use the restroom.

In order to celebrate their recent graduation, James and some fellow classmates took a boat out off the coast of North Carolina. Hours passed, and having the natural urge to urinate, James grabbed an inner tube and hopped off the boat to do his business. Perhaps due to the slightly large amount of alcohol, James' peers did not realize his poorly timed bathroom break, and decided it was time to head back to shore. In retrospect it was certainly a comical scene; James floating there with that post-urination relieved look on his face, suddenly broken as he hears the engine roar behind his back. What followed was a comical combination of thrashing, screaming, and - not one, but two - flips off the side of the tube. Alas, among the thundering engine and the senseless joy aboard the boat, James' cries were useless.

As day commonly does, it soon passed into night, which leaves James in this all-encompassing darkness. He lays back now, weighed down with the exhaustion from screaming for some sort of rescue. It was very much a fruitless act, but how can you blame him - what other sane response is there when stranded at sea? In times of such hopelessness there is little room left in the brain for logical thinking. Your mind is consumed - and our dear James can clearly attest to this - with one thing: rescue. Of course, what else is there? I surely doubt you would suggest for James to swim back to shore, or even less become some sort of floating nomad. No - rescue is the only positive outcome that James can hope for. So he screamed.

Now, as he drifts in this darkness, James' mind migrates from a consuming desire to be rescued to a defeated hopelessness. No one would find him in the night, not in a darkness so thick that he struggled to breathe. By the morning he could have drifted any number of miles - ideally closer to shore, but seldom do these things turn out so well. Fully convinced of his depravity, James set his mind on the fact that by next light his rescue would be impossible. As this final realization sunk in for James, his mind raced again, for the fear of dying was much stronger than any exhaustion.

You'll find that when death becomes inevitable, the fear of actually being dead is relatively minor. There's only so many possible outcomes - perhaps there is a Heaven that James can look forward to; perhaps everything just goes blank, and his consciousness ceases to exist; or perhaps, even, he would become a ghost and could haunt those damn "friends" who left him at sea. No matter the outcome that is death, it could not be as terrible as the worst parts of life. I mean, you can't get stranded at sea when you're dead, right?

In fact, the real fear for James is how he and this fateful Grim would be introduced. On this front, there were nearly infinite options, each more horrifying than the last. The most obvious in James' situation, of course, being drowning. How awful that would be - the overwhelming panic as you realize your life depends on another breath; the desperate gasp for air only being met with water; and the final moments when - goodness, that sounds awful. Certainly there is a better way for James to go. But what? Starvation? Spending long days slowly getting weaker and weaker until the breaks in hallucinations is your only grip on reality? No, not that. What about a shark - it would be quick and probably without warning; but no, the pain would be overwhelming - that wouldn't work either.

You see, the fear of dying ceaselessly plagues the mind. The best of us are offered a peaceful death, surrounded by family in a comfortable bed. We're offered the chance at some meaningful parting words, and a calm final breath. Outside of that, there is no enjoyable dying process - every thinkable option is too painful, or gruesome, or gross to even consider. This, James found, was infinitely more exausting than anything he had ever done in his life. Being constantly terrorized by a new opportunity to die, ironically, drained every bit of life that he had left.

This is where James made his ultimate revelation on dying. Dieing, in his case, is difficult no matter which way it comes. The real terror, though, comes from the lack of control. Truly, drowning may not be so bad if he could make the decision to make that final fleeting gasp. Starvation may not even be terrible if he could convince himself that the stomach pains will eventually subside. The true fear of dying is not knowing - it's not knowing when, or how, or if it's going to happen. Death is the only thing that no man has control over - we can choose to live closer or farther from death, but ultimately the time and method is not for us to decide.

James' final resolution was to not give death this satisfaction. He would not lie down and let death decide his end. He would not live these last hours of his life in terror of death's creative process. He would control this; he would decide his fate. With that, he decided that on first light he would dive down as deep as he could bear, welcome in that panicked gasp, and accept death as his inevitable end. Overcome with the peace of knowing that he had control, James finally drifted off to sleep.

He awoke to a familiar sound. Yes, there were the now familiar sounds of the rolling ocean, the sound of his body squeaking against the wet inner tube, but it was neither of those. It was faint, but pierced the calm air well enough that it could not be mistaken. It was a boat; in fact, as it drew closer James realized that it was the very same boat that his friends had been captaining the previous day; they had come back. With great relief, James reclaimed his wits and began another bout of screaming and thrashing to get the boat's attention. Overcome with joy, James saw the boat turn towards him and confirm his rescue. As he was pulled aboard the boat James was quickly covered with towels to wipe away all that had come with his night at sea. He ran the towel down his arms and legs, and felt with relief that he was wiping away the last remnants of the darkness that had clung to him the previous evening.

We see now that darkness is much more than just a space without light. It is clearly more; darkness is a consuming force, an infection that spreads and controls everything within it. The fear of darkness is not an irrational fear of things that might lurk in the shadows. No, it is certainly much more. The fear of darkness is the fear of the things it consumes; a fear of the way it surrounds, morphs, and transforms the things we know, turning them into demons that haunt us through the night. Our only anchor is faith that darkness will pass, and its plague on our perceptions will as well. We rely on the assurance that when night passes, light will come to reveal that darkness only provided a skewed version of our hopeful reality.