Writing again! Here is an all new essay on how one second can change your life everyday.
I have always been a very sound sleeper. Once I am asleep it is, typically, the end of the story until morning. It is a nightly hibernation–no contact with the waking world from the time my head hits the pillow until my eyelids flutter, revealing a new day. A character in a book I read recently called it “the sleep of the damned.” I’d never heard it put that way before and it worried me a bit at first. Ultimately, though, I decided to put it out of my mind.That’s the kind of thing that will keep a person up at night.
My father was the same way; a fact frequently confirmed by my mother–a person who is the complete opposite. I can recall any number of debriefs over breakfast involving reports of thunderstorms, fire sirens, loud mufflers, barking dogs, overly chatty crickets, rumbling garbage trucks, an overly aggressive paper boy with a rocket arm and, on one break from college–the high school marching band during its early morning practice for the Memorial Day parade. Woodwinds to percussion patriotically stepped down our street trumpeting Stars and Stripes Forever throughout the neighborhood. They marched right past our house–or so I’m told. You certainly couldn’t prove it by me.
Each and every time these conversations ended with my mother delivering an exasperated, “I can’t believe you two didn’t hear that!”
My father and I would look at each other, shrug and laugh.
“I don’t know,” we’d say.
As a light sleeper, my mother is the sort of person you would want keeping watch if you were in the sort of position of needing to do that kind of thing. She sleeps, but more like a cat. She’s content enough but the slightest odd sound and her ears perk, an eye half opens–”Wuhwazzat?”
In high school I remember my friends talking about sneaking out of their houses for late night teenage mischief. They’d talk about popping off roofs and shimmying down drain pipes, creeping down stairs, scurrying over dew-soaked lawns and into the night. These are things teenagers did before cell phones and the Internet, before Snapchat.
The roof of a small side porch was right outside my bedroom window and I always wondered if I’d ever actually make it to the ground if I ever actually dared to crawl out. The consideration was more of a curiosity regarding my courage or lack of courage, my physical ability or lack of physical ability combined with the vaguest fear of heights and a complete fear of falling. Then there was the matter of the screen that covered the window.
Thinking about it was never a matter of devising any sort of strategic plan–not by a long shot. I never would have actually tried sneaking out. Not once. My mother would have been awake before I could peel back the covers. Busted. To this day, I step over the creaky board in the floor at the threshold of my old room.
For me, falling asleep or staying asleep has never been much of an issue–save for the occasional hacking cough during cold and flu season or a late night phone call from someone who would likely regret it in the morning. I guess I’m lucky in that way. A good night’s sleep is a luxury for many. For me, the waking up is what gets me–or gets my attention anyway. I think particularly of one particular second.
Because I sleep so soundly I almost disappear from the world. I slip out of it completely and, in turn, everything else slips away from me. I am in another world, dreaming (which is a whole other story) and then suddenly…click. I am back, returned and facing another day. It is that click, that moment, that transition from one realm to another and what follows that often decides the day.
In that moment, an instant, really, I awake a peaceful amnesiac–unaware of the world I left eight to nine hours before (on a good night) and am momentarily, blissfully unaware of who I am or where I am or what is happening in my life.
Then comes the one second.
The one second reminds you of everything.
* * * * *
Sometimes I hate that one second.
Misery loves the one second. It takes full advantage, particularly during times of trouble or grief–deaths, breakups, last days of vacation, hangovers, Mondays.
During these times, that one second is especially tough to bear. The eyelids unceremoniously come unglued, the fog begins to lift and then suddenly it comes–a wave, a flood, a snakelike vine slowly and deliberately winding itself around you. It squeezes and bears down by way of a lump in the throat. It cleaves to the roof of your mouth, sitting and pressing on your chest, emptying out and settling into a pit in your stomach.
You close your eyes, trying to resist and hoping to grasp onto those last moments of sleep; hoping they can pull you back in, back to safety, back to where you do not have to remember. It is a desperate and futile effort ending ultimately, for the lucky, at the bottom of a cup of strong coffee.
* * * * *
Sometimes I love the one second.
Joy loves the one second too. It embraces it completely, particularly during times of happiness–births and marriages, first days of vacation, Fridays.
During these times the one second barely has a chance to take hold. The eyelids just gently open, the fog is whisked away on a fresh breeze and you have already beat it to the punch. The joy has pulled up the corners of your mouth, sent air rushing into your lungs, a flush to your cheeks, a tingle in your scalp. It practically lifts you out of bed as if on the wings of hundreds of happily flapping butterflies.
You blink, lazily acknowledging a sense of gratitude that comes with a peaceful heart; you stretch already energized limbs, eagerly wanting to remember each and every wonderful moment and person and thing while looking forward to the exciting day ahead. It is an invigorating and humbling effort ending ultimately, for the very lucky, at the bottom of a cup of strong coffee.
* * * * *
We first moved into the home with the creaky floorboard when I was about seven years old. My grandfather–my mother’s dad–had died, leaving her the house that she had originally moved into when she was about seven years old. He was a wonderful man–kind and funny. He was a gentleman with a gentle manner. He was an expert woodworker but had made his living working on a mail train, when they had those kinds of things–Buffalo to New York City and back again for years and years. My mother told stories of him memorizing specific streets and addresses on stiff pieces of paper the size of business cards–long before there were postal codes. There were stacks and stacks of them. He was expected to know every address by heart so that he could organize the packages and letters. He was expected to do so on a moving train–within minutes–with 99% accuracy. This was his life. He would study, she told me, from a chair in what would eventually become our dining room.
A few months before we moved in, my grandfather placed a phone call to my mother. It was the day before my birthday. He spoke with my mom–a regular, everyday chat mostly. It was nothing she remembered in particular. Later, though, she would recall that he had remarked he was a bit tired and would likely turn in early and get some rest. The phone call drew to an end and they said their I love yous and then, their goodbyes. The next phone call to our home the next day would deliver the news to my mother that my sweet grandfather had died in his sleep.
My grandfather was the first person I ever knew who died at all. To this day he is still the only person I have known to have died while sleeping–no other warning or mitigating factor. I have always thought of it as a very peaceful end.
I have also always wondered about his one second.
Does death, I wonder, wake you up right away when you slip away into the night? Does it let you know? Or does it let you sleep and deliver the news quietly, whispering in your ear when the time does come to wake that your plans have changed?
What is that one second?
It is enough, I think, to give anyone pause. It’s likely cause as well for a stronger cup of coffee.
Whether you wake to a one second that is joyfully propelling you forward into the day or one that is overwhelmingly holding you down, it seems to me there is a certain grace in waking at all–a chance. I’ve taken to greeting the morning with a small “thank you” either way–even when I feel more like swapping the “thank” with a four letter replacement not becoming a lady. I think it may be even more important then–gratitude under duress.
As I see it, that moment, that one second is one that I consciously cannot control. I wake up with it and it’s just there. I’m not in a position to be thinking about it. It just comes.
It’s then you have to start thinking about all the other seconds–the ones that will fill your day, the ones in which you are an active participant. How will you spend those seconds? What will you do? Who will you be? How will you sleep and how will you wake and what will happen in between and on and on and on.
Those are not always easy questions but, not one to lose sleep, I am confident the answers will eventually come. I know they will.
I’ll just give it a second.