For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a strange relationship with time. I see time as a formidable adversary; time surely sees me as troublesome or unmanageable.
In my mind I imagine a cartoon with a tiny me looking up at a huge clock saying, “You’re not the boss of me!”
Time and I are often not friends.
In the early days of widowhood, existing in the protective fog of shock, I was obsessed by the clock indicating bedtime. In the midst of washing dishes I would notice the clock…7:00 pm…
Oh good! Almost time for bed.
My routines ceased and bedtime arrived earlier and earlier.
Time actually was the boss of me, and I was waiting for time’s permission to act.
I was trying to find “normal” in the midst of abnormality.
What time is it when your husband is gone and will not be returning?
What time is it when you find the responsibilities in your life are multiplied and your partner absent?
Does time matter any more?
Is time in slow-motion when grief is in charge?
In our world we mark time through the vehicles of night and day. Every day starts exactly at midnight. AM stands for ante-meridiem (before noon) and pm starts just after midnight (post meridiem)
Most nights I sleep normally. Sleep has forever been my tranquilizer. The “little death” allows all troubles to fall into the background where there are no decisions to be made or actions to plot.
Each day is a little life: every waking and rising a little birth, every fresh morning a little youth, every going to rest and sleep a little death. –Arthur Schopenhauer
Historically it is the mysterious night that owns me. I’ve often joked that I can do late nights and I can do early mornings—just not at the same time. My unique relationship with time usually shows up in the second half of our 24-hour day.
It is during the “small hours” between midnight and 3:00 am when I often wake to wonder or worry.
The wondering is productive. If I have a project I am working on, often great ideas arrive as if from a dream during the small hours. I keep a desk in my room for wakeful nights rather than complain about its strange schedule.
Worrying, however, is a different story.
Nighttime worries are like a stream of thought that result in worst case scenarios such as hearing a noise and imagining it is your entire system of pipes in your 1951 home giving way, or rodents who have grown to the size of those seen in the movie, Princess Bride, or maybe the sound is actually an earthquake revving up….on and on and on. Such is the creative nature of worry.
Night is a haven for things I refuse to face in daytime.
My go-to, since Dan died, is to get up. No matter the time. Just get up and do something. Most often I’ll stay in my bedroom/bathroom area and look for a tiny project that needs attention. When my thoughts switch from worry to the details of the project it stops the downward spiral.
An in-between solution is folding a basket of towels from the dryer (conveniently located just outside my bathroom). My mind may still be trying to work out an actual problem from my life, but the folding becomes a mindful backdrop—a steady hum of mindless activity that encourages sleep. Feelings move to the background and fade. I feel satisfied completing a small task and when I begin to yawn, my body encourages me back to bed.
In this way, perhaps it is a blessing rather than a curse.
As an introvert, I have long loved night for the aloneness it conspires to provide. Dark. Quiet. Mystery.
Writing about the plus and minus of what night brings to me is helpful in sorting out what is true. It is not insomnia I am experiencing. My sometimes-wakeful moments can be helpful and I have tools to manage those times.
If it gets worse I can get help.
As I close this post, I feel a strong desire to get outdoors in the night in some safe way. Night hike anyone?
Sleeping in the Forest
By: Mary Oliver
I thought the earth
remembered me, she
took me back so tenderly, arranging
her dark skirts, her pockets
full of lichens and seeds. I slept
as never before, a stone
on the riverbed, nothing
between me and the white fire of the stars
but my thoughts, and they floated
light as moths among the branches
of the perfect trees. All night
I heard the small kingdoms breathing
around me, the insects, and the birds
who do their work in the darkness. All night
I rose and fell, as if in water, grappling
with a luminous doom. By morning
I had vanished at least a dozen times
into something better.