Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Light Sleeper

The rains have returned.

Not that that's surprising; December in Portland?


A typical December day begins with spitting rain and ends in showers while the temperature never rises above 47 and never falls below 44. The daylight hours pass in a glower of badly-lit drizzle as though you were living inside a poor-quality VHS tape of your life. We endure this part of the year without loving it, the price we pay for our lovely mild spring and summer days.

One unfortunate effect of the deterioration of my hip-joints has been that I usually need a painkiller to get to sleep. But the PKs have a nasty tendency to wake me up in the early hours of the morning; I'm not sure whether it's a side-effect of the drug or an effect of the drug wearing off and the pain returning.

Whatever the reason it's been consistent, so I've gotten used to getting up around 1:30 or 2 in the morning and spending a hour or so at the computer before trying to get back to sleep.

The world is a stark place when viewed through the pixels of the online news channels. My friend Lisa noted that in reality we live in a vastly safe world, and, when you think on that for a moment, we really do.

The great and terrible wars of the 20th Century have been spared us, our generation. The total number of combat deaths in all of my country's wars over the past decade come to less than the dead men piled up in 76 hours on the island of Betio in November, 1943.

Seventy-six hours!

We have been spared the terrible epidemics of history. The days of the fearsome marauders; the horse nomads, the migrating tribes, have been spared us. For most of us in the West we stand a better chance of being warmly housed, decently fed, and healthily raised than almost any other time and place in human history.

It must be human nature, then, to look around and ahead for things to fear when our here and today are so benign.

Just moments ago my little daughter shuffled out of the dark, rubbing her eyes and yawning. She, like me, is a light sleeper, and the light and sound of my wakefulness often brings her up out of whatever little-girl dreams are carrying her through the rainy night. She never really fully wakes but still feels compelled to go and see what I am doing.

So she totters down the hall, into the front room, and up to my chair and waits, wordlessly, for me to pick her up.

She's getting big, my little orphan child, with a density that betokens strong muscles and bones and which makes her difficult for me to lift. But that lifting is an important part of our night-wakings; I heft her to my shoulder and carry her back down the dark hallway with her smooth, soft, fine hair pressed to my neck. She cuddles in against me with a drowsy sigh, and then snuggles into her welter of soft blankets; thumb into mouth, tattered terrycloth blankie in fist, and in moments she's asleep again.

And as I'm walking back to this desk I realize that we don't need the big frights and the great terrors; every one of us has our own small worries to trouble us.

The flu germ, the inattentive driver, the lost job, the burning house...we all have so many places to be wounded. When we love we give those loves as hostages, knowing that life and Fate in their uncaring profligacy will spare us nothing, knowing that we are granted happiness and peace by the merest of random chances.

We can do all the Right Things; live carefully, love greatly, work fiercely and well, and in the end we may end up with a handful of dust and ashes.

And yet...

How can we not?

I will freely own that I have no great dreams of tomorrow. When I was young I dreamed of greatness; of my name being spoken with love, or dread, or admiration by people I had never met and never would. Of leaving monuments behind me; spires, thrones, and dominations, pyramids of skulls, works of great art and skill that would speak of me long after I was gone.

Now I hope only for small victories; a sound, useful life, a legacy of good work well done, and a part in the raising of a family of good men and women who grow to be themselves intelligent and honorable people. And every day well-lived becomes a victory over those small worries. Every evening that I can hug those small warm bodies to me becomes a triumph, and a challenge.

Because all those dangers and snares await me and mine with the next daybreak.

So I sit, and type, listening to the silent sounds of my bones as they ache and gripe at me, and look out the window at the predawn sky, seeking the faintest traces of the light of the coming day.

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