Last night I had a miniature day in the middle of my night. I woke up at three minutes to four in the morning, wide awake and ready to start my day. The unsettled feeling kicked in when I opened my eyes to find it was still almost pitch black in my room, and that the streetlamp that peers through the gap between my blinds and the window to the left of my bed, was peering just the same, ever bright as it did when I lay my head down to rest four and a bit hours earlier.
I wake up most nights, usually either to procrastinate about traversing the hallway in the cold to go to the bathroom, or to re-comfy-afiy myself in bed, but usually after a sip of water or so… I am back somewhere in the limbo that is dream land – chasing a shark on dry ground, being on a road trip in a car that can fly, or being a florist that sells bouquets with magical powers that fix everyones problems and puts everlasting smiles on everyones dials.
But last night was different, it was the once in a blue moon wide awake that leaves you wondering if perhaps someone might have snuck in to your room and woken you up for a reason. These nights, or early mornings rather, happen every so often, and they used to leave me in a downward spiral of frustration. “I need to get to sleep, but I can’t, ugh I’m going to be so tired tomorrow…” and on and on and round and round it would go till at some point, in bitterness I would wind myself up to sleep. My perspective on sleepless hours though changed when one night a couple of years ago I didn’t sleep – at all – for sheer excitement at the prospect of life. I have a series of journal entries a few hours apart each, in red pen, about how “I can’t believe I’m still awake!” and “I can’t believe this is my life!” The next day I was a veritable train wreck of sleep depravation… but I seldom remember the tiredness of that day, and often think of the ridiculousness and joy of the night that preceeded it spent in a night-before-Christmas like state.
I’ve had other nights where the hours spent awake have been painfully sad… a quote from my winter journal last year tells of a night in Melbourne where for no particular reason and every reason under the sun… in tired frustration I “watched the moon play out a sad song across venetian blind staves as moved aross the night sky.” Last winter was long.
The middle of the night, is a telling time for me and though the idea of darkness or night being equally as expository as light and day once seemed backwards and foreign, the more hours I spend with wide pupils staring at my ceiling in the dark; the more I am coming to understand the truth behind laments of longing like that of John Donne’s in his poem “A Hymn to Christ, At the Authour’s Last Going Into Germany,” as he says in the final stanza…
“To see God only, I go out of sight;
And to escape stormy days, I choose
An everlasting night.”
There’s something about it, a certain je ne sais quoi about the hours between sundown and up – and being awake at the epicentre of the two. Perhaps it is the juxtaposition of being wide awake and ready to do things that often require light that pulls the rug out from our feet and leaves us flat on our backs as our minds wander to things we mighn’t usually let them wonder about.
It might be that God wakes me up in the middle of the night because so often during the day, with all the distractions of a world full of six point nine billion people, I seldom truly take time to shut up and listen.
It could be more primal than that and simpler still, that merely the lack of visibility of external things lets us focus more intently on internal matter. Thoughts. Feelings. Ideas.
Whatever it is precisely, I don’t feel I need an answer for it yet, and perhaps not ever. It’s probably a different reason I wake up in the middle of the night each time and also likely different for everyone (although a trip to the bathroom does seem to be somewhat of a “must do” reoccuring attraction).
I’ve learned a lot in the middle of the night. The moments spent wondering about God, and wandering through thoughts I would not trade for any store of sleep or rest. I can tell you that after three and a bit years of taking seriously the absurdity of not being able to perform the simple task of getting back to sleep and learning to embrace it rather than be mad; that for me exactly one tealight candle is the perfect light for anything you need to do in the dark. Just bright enough to write or play guitar or re-enact the complete works of Shakespeare via hand shadow puppet show on your wall but not so bright your eyes have to harshly adjust.
I’ve learned that reading through the crap parts of the bible don’t always make you fall asleep… and sometimes a crap part will jump out at you, slapping you in the face, and all of a sudden be the most interesting, life filled bit of anything in the universe, shooting out to orbit the solar system of your brain for hours… and hours… until you drift back to dream.
It’s an interesting phenomenon you know, that we are allotted x-amount of hours in the day to be awake… and still sometimes we rise in the dark.
I try not to lose sleep over it though.