One night when I was a kid, I couldn’t get to sleep.

I had a songbook of folksongs, one of which was “Jesse James.” There’s a line in that song that goes “The devil will be upon his knee.” And I don’t know what got into me, but that line kept running through my head. I would close my eyes and I would feel a weight on my knee, and I’d open my eyes in a panic but there was nothing there.

I finally got up and went out into the living room, where I found Peter. He asked me what was wrong, and I told him.

I think some parents would have assumed that a kid in that circumstance must be feeling guilty about something. (As it happened, I wasn’t, but I was worried that Peter might think I was.) But Peter did what was, for me, exactly the right thing:

He told me about the history of the idea of the Devil.

He told me that “Lucifer” meant “light-bringer.” He told me something about the history of the word and concept of “Satan.” One could argue that he was intellectualizing something emotional, but for me that helped; and anyway, I’d say it was more that he shone light (both metaphorical and literal) on something shadowy that had been distressing me, and let me see that it wasn’t something I needed to be afraid of.

And after we had talked for a while, I went back to bed and fell asleep easily.

4 Responses to “Devil”

  1. Uncle Paul

    What a great story. I’m glad you’re posting these, Jed.

  2. Dobe

    Did he tell you about the dyslexic devil-worshipper who prayed to Santa?

  3. irilyth

    Neat story. How old were you at the time? (Approximately — more like four, or more like fourteen?)

  4. Jed

    Paul, belatedly: Thanks!

    Dobe: 🙂

    Josh: Thanks! And good question. I’m really not sure. I want to say about six, but that seems too young to have been familiar with all the songs in that songbook. My mother wasn’t present, but it must have been before she died, because that was when I was twelve and I’m almost certain I was significantly younger than that. Maybe eightish?

    …While I’m here: I should have mentioned in this entry that nobody in my house, including me, actually believed in the devil; not part of our religion or our familial or cultural mythologies. Which made it doubly weird that I would get so distressed about it in the first place.


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