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.


Lisa said...

What I know is, we're always on the edge of an abyss, but we are also on solid ground. Jump or retrograde? Often, the choice is ours.

I liked this, written by someone living near the destroyed Japanese nuclear plant:

I live in a town about 100 miles from the Fukushima nuclear plant. While my area was considered “safe” for radioactive fallout, the following days were littered with dozens of daily earthquakes day and night, no food or water to be found for miles, and no gasoline for those who wanted to go in search. After the 10th day of no more than 30 minutes of sleep a night, another Westerner and I decided to get a little distance.

After we drove about 200 miles, there were no more earthquakes, all the stores were open, it was calm and we were safe. Once my brain registered that I was safe, I had this strange feeling of my panic searching for something else to grasp onto.

I had become so accustomed to the fear and panic that, rather than it leaving when it was no longer necessary, it went looking for something else. I had to consciously tell myself there was nothing to fear and that it was okay to feel safe.

FDChief said...

I think, Lisa, that our modern electronic world has done us no favors in that sense. We don't HAVE to go and look for the fear and panic - it comes to us every moment we open a newspaper or look at a webpage.

From where we sit we can share in the horrors visited on people we will never know and have no truck with, beyond the false intimacy that the electronic media brings to us. We are utterly safe, completely beyond whatever nightmare flensing them...and yet we can share their sights and sounds and fears.

I stopped watching the local TV news years ago when I realized that in a city of millions I was spending the evening with the tiny fraction that was being beaten and burned, raped and murdered.

And yet...our lives ARE precarious in many ways. The random blood clot, the passing automobile, any one of these can erase us in the space between heartbeats.

So I think it becomes a question of which you choose; to seek out the fear and panic, or to accept that the threat is there and yet every day try and do the best you can in every way you can. Sadly, I think that many of our friends and fellow citizens have chosen the former, and that fear colors their entire lives and warps their judgements. How else to account for the seemingly-multifarious examples of credulous foolishness and fearful ferocity we encounter every day? How else to account for the TSA screening, the secret prisons, the armored policemen and their spy drones, all the trappings of the security state alongside the individual whack - the anti-vaccination and microwave and chemtrail goofiness?

We've talked about this before, but...damn, what a bunch of goofy apes we are!

Barry said...

"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. "

Probably the pain; talk with a doctor about how to stack and space painkillers.

FDChief said...

I think part of it is that the PKs have an effective range of about 6 hours. So even if I take one at 6pm and another at 10 they wear off about 3-4 in the morning.

But the wakefulness seems to be independent of pain; I've woken and been pain-free (as much as I ever am pain-free...) so I'm not sure if it isn't some sort of complication of the medication.

And sometimes the fuckers don't work at all. Like tonight. Bad, bad night. Damn.

Lisa said...

I stopped watching t.v. news when I was in college. I could see the trend to celebrity and "Dirty Laundry"-ness. Five minutes for the weather? No international news to speak of? A total waste of time.

Pico Iyer's "The Joy of Quiet" in yesterday's NYT refers to our need for the perspective that distance gives (as does most of his stuff). Another article in the same paper mentioned how one corp. is requiring several hours Tuesday mornings of "unplugged" time to assist with creativity.

It is very perverse to me, the folks who become so wrapped up with the phenoms like Casey Antony, and with the internet, there is no limitation on the voyeurism. Further, the perversion is supported as being "normal" by the others on any given forum.

"[T]o accept that the threat is there and yet every day try and do the best you can in every way you can. --

That is the only correct way to live life.

Lisa said...

p.s. -- I hope you're feeling better tonight.