Last summer I loved walking home in the daylight after 10:00 p.m. I’ll admit that on the nights when I forgot to close the blackout shade my 5:00 a.m. sun-in-the-eyes wakeup left me more groggy than usual. It took me a third cup of coffee to wake up, instead of my usual two.
Now’s the season when my daylight shrinks from eighteen hours to less than eight. And most days we’re lucky to see the sun at all. Sometimes it graces us with a flash as it transits that narrow gap between horizon and the comfortable cloud layer that’s our comforter keeping winter mild. Reminds me of my department store days in Snowacuse, NY. I’d go into work in the dark, spend entire days hidden from any kind of window, and then go home in the dark.
And you know something?
It wasn’t all that bad.
Years ago I was the human appendage of factory machines spitting out sewer pipes at varying intervals [Can you think of better preparation for a career in advertising?]. I loved the midnight shift – for a lot more than the pay premium. During random pauses in the plant’s rhythmic cacophony outside silence and stillness crept in. The world is quiet at night. It gave us a peace we never found on the day shift, where psychic stillness was buried in the static of the human world outside and the now-occupied offices in the front of the building. From a coffee break on the silent loading dock, individual events – passing animals or vehicles, individual coughs and sounds – had an impact lost in crowded daytimes. The dark and silent enforce a focus that’s much more difficult to achieve when our eyes are full of input and our ears full of noise.
Nighttime’s a time for dreaming. For warmth with others. To plan. To reflect. It’s easier to see inside ourselves when there’s less to see outside. A lot of our plant and animal cousins use winter’s dark to rest, to restore themselves, to prepare for springtime’s exuberance. If we followed their example, we wouldn’t spend entire days and years doomed to the routines demanded in our roles as the fingernail clippings of a market’s invisible hand.
OK, so we’re not the same as the birds, bees and trees. But does that mean we should doom ourselves to a life of routine? Why do Americans take pride in never taking vacations? In never recognizing that they’re life forms and not machine parts? Too many try to spend a year’s worth of non-work energy in an exhausting vacation binge that leaves them too exhausted to resume their exhausting daily tedium. Are binge vacations the same as binge drinking? Isn’t balance a bit more beneficial for us? Or has the Protestant work ethic/theological rationale for capitalism totally brainwashed them?
Every now and then we hear about job-sharing. And paid leave for child rearing and taking care of the sick. Of balancing on the tightrope between living in a commercial society and maintaining personal sanity. But usually not in America.
You can’t take it with you.