wolf“With great power comes great responsibility.” – Voltaire (and Uncle Ben from Spiderman, of course)

My eyes snapped open as I heard the low and menacing growl nearby. Even with my eyes as wide as they were, I couldn’t see much. It was late and our campfire was out. Though engulfed in darkness I could still tell that my brother Nicholas and cousin Adam, wrapped in their sleeping bags next to me, were awake now too.

We were kids at the time, sleeping under the stars a few kilometers from our house. We had set up camp in the woods next to a farmer’s field and had spent the warm summer afternoon and evening eating junk food and goofing around. The hair standing up on the back of my neck told me that playtime was over.

“What was that?” Adam whispered, his voice quavering. Two thoughts darted across my mind. Number one: Holy crap, there’s some vicious animal ready to rip us to shreds lurking in the woods.”

And the second? Don’t tell Adam.

It was probably just a squirrel, but in my mind, this is what lurked in the shadows.

You see, as a child, Adam had a powerful and crippling phobia of wolves. I’m not sure why. I just remember the last time he slept over in the camper we had parked in our driveway, he became convinced there were wolves outside. Strangely, he decided the best course of action was to abandon the safety of the camper and run home screaming “WOOOOOOOLF!!!” in the middle of the night.

So, in an effort to keep Adam from getting out of his sleeping bag and run screaming into the woods, I let out a pretty convincing growl of my own. Laughing, I told them it had just been me, joking around.

Adam and Nicholas told me I was an idiot and went back to sleep. I did not. I didn’t hear any more growls that night, but in my mind we were completely surrounded by wolves, coyotes, sasquatches and possibly even velociraptors. I lay awake and hoped my entrails would survive till morning.

Moral of the story

Like the wolf in the woods (or was it a rabid yeti?), the world is full of scary things. Climate change, wars, famine, poverty: the woods are full of growling beasts. The question is how we respond to them. Do we ignore them and pretend we don’t hear anything? Do we run away screaming like Adam because it’s too scary? Similarly, do we change the channel when an upsetting news report comes on TV? Or flip to the Sports section of the newspaper and ignore the rest?

Ignorance may be bliss but it’s also irresponsible. Too much is at stake in our world to pretend that the wolf in the woods is not there at all. The challenges we face are complex and can seem overwhelming at times. But we need to have the courage to face up to our responsibilities to each other and the world around us.

So keep your ears open for the growls and have the courage to confront them head on, scary though it may be. (Author’s note: in no way am I encouraging people to go out and pick fights with wolves or bears. And certainly not sasquatches.)

Like these stories? You’ll find a whole whack of them — more than 50 in fact — in my book Simple(ton) Living: Lessons in balance from life’s absurd moments