Henry, Wally and I had our weekly Zoom call yesterday morning. Our discussion rambled over several timely topics. We argued politely but nonetheless passionately and ended the discussion with respect for the others’ viewpoints. At least I came away feeling that.
It is now 3:30 AM and I have been awake for about an hour and not the least bit sleepy. That will hit around noon today! My mind is racing. Jumping from our zoom call to the darkness, the sound of the rain, house noises- the purr of the furnace, an electric clock motor, the dog’s groan as he changes position and the loneliness creeps in. Is it the darkness or quietness that has let the loneliness creep in and intrude on my rest? My mind is racing, bouncing off unrelated ideas like a ping pong ball. I was going to write about people who entered my life for very brief moments and yet have occupied a corner of my mind for decades. A little girl named Maureen is who came to mind. When I was 4 years old we lived in an old railroad flat on East 23rd St and First Ave. It was an old apartment building, 6 floor walk up. On Thursday’s the dumbwaiter would arrive at our floor, and my mom would open the little door in the kitchen, put our garbage in it and send it up to the roof for incineration and there would be Maureen, peeking over our respective garbage, and waving as her mom added garbage from her side of the dumbwaiter. I never played with her, never even knew her last name, never even heard her voice but for some reason she has been hiding in my brain for over 70 years. That is what I was going to write about this time around but the loneliness tonight overwhelmed me. Sitting in the dark with only the glow of my phone emphasizes that incredible insecurity and hesitancy I experience a lot. And now, here it is staring me down face to face and no one to pat my shoulder or take my hand and offer encouraging words. That’s probably what I miss the most, and this is probably the time I am visited by my worst demons.
I am resting my head on my hands and looking out my living room window into the dark houses and empty rooms of my neighbors. Their houses are as dark as mine and I can’t help but wonder if they have demons that haunt them, too. I figure they probably do but I can’t empathize with them right now cause I am too absorbed in how to deal with mine. Health issues loom among the biggest demons right now. What late life decisions will I be forced to make. Here we are going into Christmas week and I forced myself to decorate just so my daughter wouldn’t worry. After years of large family gatherings, food everywhere, even in our stockings hung by the chimney with care (the stockings were always filled with oranges and walnuts and candy as well as little gifts) we are reduced to just the two of us. My son moved away which left yet another empty chair in my life.
But, a car just passed the house, my hometown will be waking up soon, and even a hint of daylight will break through the darkness. I’ll probably fall asleep for an hour or so thinking how fortunate I am to have friends I can talk to about this! How thankful I am for my kids and my dog. The demons will subside with the daylight, things will make me laugh, the worries will disappear just as the house sounds do and be replaced by the neighborhood awakening. I am sure there will be other nights like this but for now the promise of daylight comforts me as my mind begins to slow down and cry for rest!
Boy, lots of possible rejoinders in this post. George writes about the vulnerability he feels on some nights, when darkness rules and minor issues grow into golems knocking at the door. Hen relates a childhood story about a boa constrictor slithering across ribbed vinyl. Wow – I can imagine that sound –scary!!
While Hen has come to terms with the darkness and embraced the gentile quiet and star-filled panoply of the evening sky, I tend to relate to George’s troubles.
Nightfall signals the time of winding down and reflecting on the day. While I’m active, I make plans for the next day: sticky notes with tasks to be accomplished. That’s all fine until bedtime. Generally, I fall asleep immediately, but wake up 3 hours later. That’s when the troubles can start. Overlooked issues, past mistakes, and seemingly insoluble problems slither up my bedpost like Hen’s boa constrictor.
Sigmund Freud felt that while we are asleep, our consciousness magnifies minor discomforts several-fold. I always assume that some physical discomfort initially wakes me, but once alert, it’s the worries that keep me awake.
Most of the time, I can dismiss the problems. When I can’t, I get up and write down every problem that is the source of anxiety. Funny, but once these issues have been named and recorded, I’m ready for sleep again. However, George’s wonderful description of the aloneness that you can feel at night – the anxiety over what cannot be controlled (which – let’s face it – is a lot), can make you uncomfortably aware of the existential void.
That void may be the real night terror: measuring your life, it’s inevitable ending and underlying meaning aside from the busy-ness of daylight routine. Your wants and fears are more clearly reflected in the dark. That’s why the act of writing down my anxieties and worries frees me up. The items that bother me are so generally pedestrian as to be laughable in the cosmic perspective. So in the end, I wind up reminding myself what a little being I am in this big world. Rather than making me more anxious, it makes me chuckle.
The Power of the Mind
George raises an interesting question about darkness and light and their relationship to how we carry our demons. With the coming of dawn he felt comforted and his mind slowed perhaps enough for him to regain control of what he allowed in, what weight it carried, and how long he would allow it to last.
As a child, I remember being awakened one night by a sound that I was convinced was a huge boa constrictor slithering across the vinyl, slightly ribbed kitchen chairs listening for my heartbeat so as to know where to find me. It was as if everyone in my family disappeared and I was alone in the house with only this giant hungry snake. To this day I have no idea why I conjured it up. At first it was a game and I began to play with the idea knowing full well the noises I heard were likely the oil burner or refrigerator motors. But soon, it was out of control as it took over my mind in the dark and quiet of the night, and try as I might, I couldn’t shut it off. Sometimes the power we give to our mind can evolve into a force of it’s own. Scary!
These days I have a different relationship with the dark. The darker my bedroom, the better I sleep. When I lived in the country, I would often go outside at night and gaze at the stars. The darker it was, the more I could see. For me he dark has less to do with triggering my concerns or fears as does more situational things like a conversation, an article, or a distant memory. Yes, from time to time they may keep me from sleep for an hour or two as I puzzle through solutions, next steps, or strategies for letting them go. But most of the time I’m planning how to keep myself entertained with things I want to do and am still able to do which leaves me little time to spend with the demons.
However, I must share a brief story of the power of mind over matter and the influence George seems to have over my thoughts. When the three of us began working together on this blog, he once complained about the aches and pains he felt each morning when he awoke. Although we are the same age, I explained that I hadn’t noticed any such thing when I got up each day. The next morning I paid attention to my body as I woke up, swung my legs to the floor and walked to the door. I was shocked and saddened to realize that my joints were full of aches and pains as well! Every since, I thank my friend George for bringing this reality to my attention, each and every morning! Somehow I had grown accustomed to them and never realized they were there. Of course now I’m afraid to find out what happens tonight when I shut off the light and try to go to sleep. Ugh!