It’s one in the morning. I’ve had four hours of mostly pain filled sleep in two different beds and I have decided to give up on rest. To make matters worse, for some strange reason, I have awakened with “Hark the Harold Angels Sing” in my head instead of the usual random classic rock song.
My arms feel like they are being ripped from my shoulders, my trigger finger on my right ring finger has returned, and to add to my woes, the second toenail on each foot has a nice case of “runner’s toe.” To say they are tender would be an under statement. Like the dead of night, all of this will pass.
I admit I could do without these painful reminders I am still alive and could use a few more hours of sleep, but I know slumber is not about to happen. Instead, I head out to the kitchen to make myself some coffee and eat a banana only to realize we are out of fruit. My next go to is usually a handful of peanuts, but those are gone as well. It’s Sunday morning which means today is the day to get groceries.
This routine has become my new normal since last October and I am now use to it. What use to send me into a near panic has become routine. I have options to ride out my discomfort. This time, the pain level is ramped up well above normal so I head to the medicine cabinet, swallow two low dose Norco, and cross my fingers they kick in and do the job. Some nights, I just need to enjoy my coffee and protein powder combo and go online to distract my mind. Other times, I resort to my crossword puzzles.
It always amazes me just how silent this time of night is. I can hear my dog Mini breathing ever so lightly while she sleeps alone on the couch. Our four other dogs are sleeping soundly with my wife, but Mini prefers her space so she sleeps by herself. Along with her breathing, I hear the sound of rain lightly falling on the roof. There are times it is so quiet out, I can hear the iron wheels of trains clanking on the tracks as they run through town a mile and a half away. Indeed, silence can be deafening.
I scroll through the news stories of the day only to see little of interest. I read about Deyontay Wilder’s heavyweight title defense. The Warriors have gone three up on the Trail Blazers which means Kevin Durant can take his time to recover. Trump is being Trump, Kentucky is being Kentucky, and some horse just ran the Preakness sans its jockey.
There are people who love to work the graveyard shifts and I finally understand why. It’s not so much the lack of activity as much as it is the peacefulness that comes with it. All day long we see people mindlessly going through life connected to some form of distraction. If they are not glued to their phone then it is their work computer. Earbuds secured, they mindlessly block out the world around them because let’s face it, all too often the world we live in is a sour reminder of society gone off the rails.
Life has become far more complicated than it needs to be. In the 1960’s, our nation went from having no space program to placing a man on the moon. Today, we have created so many rules and regulations, it will take ten years to select a manufacturer to build a new manned craft to place men and women on the moon again. Keep it Simple has been replaced by Make it Complicated and Costly.
It’s the same in education, medicine, and pretty much every aspect of our lives. No wonder the middle of the night has more to offer people who have grown weary of our so called technological advances. Far too many do not know what to do if they can not Google their way out of a problem because they no longer know how to think for themselves. People who are comfortable in their own world and who like to get lost in their thoughts can do that better in the middle of the night while they sleep away eight hours when others are stuck in traffic, or worse, grinding away at a pointless job inside a cubicle.
In the middle of the night, one of the most difficult decisions I have to make is whether or not to enjoy a second cup of coffee. It helps being semi retired and knowing I can squeeze in a short nap on a busy day or a long one on a slow day. Not everyone has that luxury. I can take the time to think about things like my next workout. No matter what level of discomfort I have, you can bet I am going to find a way to workout. I enjoy taking the time to really think through what I want to do and the sequence I want to follow.
I can put together a list of things I want to make sure we pick up at the grocery store without feeling rushed. Since Monday is right around the corner, I have the time to review my appointment book and write down my week’s work schedule (looks like a light week), physical therapy (three times instead of the usual two), doctor’s appointments (just my chiropractor on Friday), and any important events (none unless I have forgotten again).
Some people love living in a fast paced world, some can’t seem to keep from getting buried under the rat race, and then some go to great lengths not to over schedule themselves. I have never been one to see how much I can cram into a 24 hour day. I do not need a bunch of thrills, surprises, or entertainment to keep me satisfied. I prefer an early morning run by myself in a quiet park over a workout in a crowded gym filled with distractions.
Oddly, one of my jobs is training others at a very busy YMCA. I enjoy it very much, but you won’t see me working out there. Instead, my garage door will open to let in the early morning fresh air while I workout by myself in my gym at home. I wave to neighbors as they head off to work or take their kids to school. I never have to wait for equipment to use, listen to music I don’t like blasting on the gym’s speakers, or get stuck in mindless conversations that eat up my time.
I know, I am a loner in this regard. I like people, it’s just that I do not feel the need to be doing four or five other things at a time while I engage with them. I am more singularly focused. A lone conversation with an interesting person is infinitely more enjoyable than attending a social event for me. Since no one is more interesting than my wife, I do not go to great lengths to create or maintain a large circle of friends.
You can learn a lot about yourself when you spend hours in quiet solitude. It’s not always good what you learn. I have had to face my past and come to terms with it thanks to my silent nights. I’ve learned how and why I have not always been the best version of me, but on the bright side, doing so has helped me to grow and become a better person. We do not have to face the worst of ourselves if we keep ourselves swamped with work, activities, and pointless distractions. Alone, we may suffer, but we also grow if we allow ourselves to.
I can worry myself silly thinking about the road ahead. I have a fourth shoulder surgery set for next month and know while it will allow me greater use and mobility of my left arm, it will do nothing for the nerve pain that attacks both arms and interrupts my sleep. In the quiet of the night, I have made a plan that will allow me to still get my exercise jones filled while my arm is in a sling. I have people lined up to cover for me at work, and I have been afforded the time and peace to remind myself of the temporariness of the inconvenience I face.
The night has allowed me plenty of time to reflect on my past, to make note of all I have to be thankful for, and to be reassured of all there is to look forward to.
It’s now 3:30 in the morning and still deathly silent out. However, tonight has afforded me the time to feel more than my physical discomfort and for that, I am grateful. The night’s silence is truly golden if you let it. I highly recommend everyone give it a try.
Top photo by Tim Forkes
Jim is a life long resident of California and retired school teacher with 30 years in public education. Jim earned his BA in History from CSU Chico in 1981 and his MA in Education from Azusa Pacific University in 1994. He is also the author of Teaching The Teacher: Lessons Learned From Teaching. Jim considers himself an equal opportunity pain in the ass to any political party, group, or individual who looks to profit off of hypocrisy. When he is not pointing out the conflicting words and actions of our leaders, the NFL commissioner, or humans in general, he can be found riding his bike for hours on end while pondering his next article. Jim recently moved to Camarillo, CA after being convinced to join the witness protection program.