Ah, it has come to me. This is what I will write about: the middle of the night. What shall I call it? The still of the early morining hours? The reverential hush of deepest eventide?
It has been raining off and on for the past hour, a teasing sort of rain that has provided the only sounds out my window as I sit here reading and typing.
Rain — that rare phenomenon in our area for so long now. I have noticed a curious thing related to this drought: no one complains about the weather much anymore. Or so it seems. If it is gray and drizzling and dreary, we see it as an opportunity for more rain. Bleakness has become possibility in the darkened skies. The hoped-for possibility for an end to this drought.
I think at late hours like this, I exist in a kind of in-between realm. I am awake and alert, but ready to shut down and go to bed at any time. But only if I have to.
It’s a quarter to three, and a car has just noisily come to a stop in a parking place, a door has shut, and the spell of an empty, quiet night has just been momentarily broken. But it is now quiet again. Mercifully. There is nothing so obtrusive and annoying as loud cars at this impossibly late hour.
I tell people I am a creature of the night, a night person who thrives on staving off sleep so that he can cram in one more hour of reading or listening to music. As one who has had a lifetime of trouble sleeping, this nightly battle to stay up is an ongoing one, as familiar, and even as comfortable and ritualistic as my morning routines at the start of a new day.
That new day is only hours away, but light years, also, because these moments I am experiencing now will seem very distant and hazy in the light of day.
When I say that I am a night person, I say that I like the multitude of quiet possibilities that exist — the subtle gradations of mystery and yearning that can only come when there is no other sound or activity to interfere with thought and meditation. And, in winter, there are no crickets chirping just outside in the dewy grass, much as I love that sound. There is often no wind to stir the bare trees. There is just stillness. Continuous and deep.
Yes, I miss the dawns. When I have at last surrendered to the necessity of sleep, I do not get to know the miraculous beginning of the day that lies just ahead. I rush about to get ready for work, daylight greeting me.
But I don’t think I want to change these routines very much. The late night seems to have no end sometimes, offering a glimpse of immortality, while the time just before dawn is filled with a subtle kind of restlessness, the feeling that it will not last, and that harsher light will soon replace the subtle tints of the sunrise.
Late at night, one has the feeling of being the only one still awake. The lone holdout. The sentiinel in the night — watchful, listening, tired, but unaware of being tired until the mind clamors for some respite from the world of consciousness. It wants time to itself in the land of dreams and altered reality.
Sleep is precious, blissful. I know it. But I don’t know it. For those for whom slumber is an easeful release from consciousness, savor the gift. To those like myself who strive to extract every last bit of wakefulness from the night, be patient and tolerant. We are “of the night” and yield to its mysteries only with great reluctance, and, finally, sheer exhaustion.
(Written Feb. 20, 2002)
Postscript, Nov. 11,2021:
It’s fascinating to go back in time 20 years ago and see what life was like then. As far as my nocturnal routines, the main changes have been that I now always stay up until 5 am later, getting pretty much the same amount of “sleep” — 5 hours on average — that I did in 2002 when I was normally up and busy doing things until 3 am. But for the past four years, I no longer have to go into work. I always functioned fine at work on 5 hours of sleep. I plan to ask my doctor soon if I can get a gene test to determine if I am one of those 5 percent of people referred to as “genetic short sleepers.” I really believe I am.