I’ve been laying in bed for three hours, wide awake. I knew this would happen, even predicted to my parents several hours ago, recalling the two cups of coffee and two diet Pepsis I drank today. My caffeine consumption is a fraction of the average person’s and though I usually avoid the stuff or, at least, limit my intake, today I was indulgent at breakfast and careless at dinner. So here I am at two am, glasses on, at the computer in the kitchen, the occasional sound of passing cars through the open window and my fingers padding the keys the only sounds in the house.
In those three hours of laying in bed my mind circled through the current events of my life – my day, a recent job interview, a self-reminder to call and check on the IRA rollover paperwork that I should have received in the mail weeks ago. Current events exhausted, the fan spinning round and round above me pushing cool air onto my cheeks, I turned my alert mind to all the friends I am missing, especially those in Pennsylvania. I smiled in the darkness, my toes flexing with excitement, knowing that in little more than a week I will be on a plane east to visit these friends I miss so keenly. Soon I’ll spend four days with Karen and her kids and celebrate her birthday on her birthday! Then I’ll visit former students of mine in Philly, then to Harrisburg for more reunions with students and coworkers and dear friends. I’ll drink far too much coffee because it goes hand in hand with all the good conversations I will have. I’ll give and receive a hundred hugs and laugh loudly. It will be nice to be there and to be happy at the same time because I was so miserable when I left.
Anticipation of my trip led me to pray. I had to say ‘thank you’ for the frequent flyer miles and rich relationships that have been gifted to me. After I prayed, I thought about the fact that most of my prayer happens at night before I sleep. When I was a child, my father used to tuck me in every night. I’d wait under the covers and he would come sit on the edge of my bed and he would ask, “who’s going first?” Sometimes he’d start, other times I would, but we both always prayed. I learned to pattern my prayers after his…”Dear heavenly father, thank you for today, thank you for…” Then dad would say goodnight and leave quietly and I would lay there and often start praying again. It was more of a conversation really, speaking my long thoughts and passionate feelings out into the quietness of my bedroom, knowing that the most important listening from the most important listener was happening.
Tonight I remembered that when I was about 10 years old, I started hearing this strange noise in my room before I would fall asleep. It was a muffled scratching noise, maybe like bits of styrofoam shuffling together in a cardboard box. I lived with that noise a long time, trying to puzzle it out. I’d get up, turn on the lights and walk the rectangle of my room, investigating. Finding nothing, I’d lay back down and try to sleep. Sometimes I’d go get my dad so he could hear the sound, but it took a few times for me to convince him I wasn’t making it all up and then a few more times for him to hear it too. For months I studied that sound and later determined it was not scratching, it was munching, like a child taking the first two or three bites of freshly poured cereal just splashed with cold milk. Dad and I finally isolated the sound to my windowsill. One day he took a crowbar to the wood frame below the window and we discovered hundreds of small, curving tunnels made by thousands of hungry carpenter ants. I was relieved to find out I was not crazy after all.
I had an irrational fear of fire when I was a child. When I was old enough to put myself to bed in an empty house, I used to lay there startled by every sound. Our house was old and always moving and settling with the small shifts in the Ohio earth. The hardwood floors cracked and popped in the extremes of cold or heat, the stairs and banisters creaked sporadically. Every small noise set my pulse jumping and my mind would skitter off to thinking that the pops and creaks were the sound of fire igniting in my house. I’d jump out of bed and open my door, peering out into the hallway looking for any kind of orange glow, my nose slowly sniffing for the scent of smoke. Ironically, the only time we ever had a fire in our house (not in our fireplace, that is) was when I was home alone, but I was not in bed and it was not at night. Lint clogged in our dryer vent caused a load of towels to overheat and combust. With smoke filling our basement, I called the fire department and then ran across the street until they came to save the day.
I don’t have quite so much fear when I lay in bed as an adult. I’m not scared of fire anymore, but I do occasionally worry that my money will run out before I find a job. Then, knowing that worrying about money won’t bring me anything but nausea, I usually pray. My prayers are very simple these nights in my bed. I usually start with, “God. Thank you for loving me. Thank you for giving me a place to live. Thank you for Skype so I can see my friends and family. Thank you for helping me save money last year. Thank you for sunshine in October. Thank you for my nieces and nephews; I miss them, please bless them. God, you know I need a job, that I need and want a purpose beyond reading and cleaning and making dinner. Please give me your patience. Thank you for…” Prayers said, my mind might keep circling and my ears might still be attending to the night sounds of cars and the swish of the fan and the neighbors yappy dog, but I know I’ll eventually fall asleep. I’m not afraid because I’m safe. I’m peaceful because I’ll experience love tomorrow. I’m thankful because I have a place to sleep.
It’s three am. Time to go back to bed and try to sleep, again.