In my bedroom, the night sounds like a seashell, sounds like the hush of blood in my ears.
I’m awake, practicing the discipline of staying not-awake so that I might slide back into sleep. Some nights I feel the rigor of the discipline more than others. Tonight, you may have guessed, is one of them.
I consider whether the rhythmic whoosh I hear is My Sweetie’s breath. He is gathering rest before getting up Far Too Early to catch a plane for a business trip he resents taking. I don’t know exactly why; it seems in itself the sort of periodic face-to-face gathering I’ve always considered useful in a far-flung team. Maybe it’s the punishing flight times. Maybe it’s the sadness and frustration he’s feeling in his role on all days, made more intense as it stretches across the country. Maybe it’s one more piece of his becoming steadily less willing to be apart from me. I’ve kissed his brow at intervals all weekend…the kisses seem to be important without altering his expression. He will leave, sad, while I am sleeping. My waking wouldn’t alter his expression.
My heart aches for my A. Last week she called me, her anxiety grabbing her words and dumping them in my ears…the job cannot be borne. On the other side of this transition time, we know the job needs to be borne, that walking away from income is homelessness and homelessness is an anxiety well beyond the crippling anxiousness she’s already experienced. That she is on her way to experiencing again. We talked that Monday, Wednesday, Thursday…and last night, where the practice I’d hoped she gained in living through to the other side of panic disintegrated into panic’s tornado.
My heart aches harder as I remember my time on the wrong side of panic. At her age, and for a few years more. It’s where I first began the night discipline, which then took all day as well. I pull this thought from the swirl: it evokes fear. Can I take good action to resolve the fear? I take it. If I cannot, what will truly happen to me if the fear comes to life? If the result is small, or glancing, then I tell myself I know I will survive even as I am still afraid. If it is big, is the fear probable? Either way, I am watching and moving through my day even as I am still afraid. And as each day I pull out and sort my fears, each day I move through from morning to night, I have another day when I did not disintegrate, a day when I demonstrated I can persist. As I stack up these days, I remind myself to look at them squarely, and use them to calculate the odds of my fears. My odds keep improving.
I try to tell my A this, to preach this good news of persistence and survival, but she cannot quite hear. This does not surprise me; the news isn’t true until you live it for yourself. Still, my heart aches in the heartbeat of darkness.
I’ve practiced the night discipline for nearly thirty years. It’s become refined as my odds improve: now any thought that ripples on the pond of my mind is set aside for later. “No, not now. Now is for quiet.” I feel My Sweetie’s sadness: not now, now is for quiet. I catch on A’s struggle: not now, now is for quiet. I hear the pause and whoosh of the room, and think, “A seashell? The ceiling fan. No…” no, not now, now is for quiet.
Eight years ago, I read a book called St. Benedict on the Freeway that both taught me about the Benedictine Hours and pointed a way I might connect better with God in the middle of my fractured days. Of the Hours I tucked into my digital reminders, none took place in the dark. If you know my life’s arc, you would laugh in recognition: in the dark I’m not awake. My midnight conversations would need to be in dreams. Except for this night.
Vigils is the name for the time of the night office in monastic life, the worship held in the center of the night. My thoughts grip with burr-like feet, hold hard to my heart. Like A, I think: the discipline is hard! I open my mind’s hand, palm up: LORD take this; now is the time of quiet. LORD take this: now is the time of quiet.
LORD, guide me when you know I must act. Now is the time of quiet.