Wretched Night

The depths of the night—the darkest, loneliest hours—reveal the starkest realities about one’s psyche. During those empty hours, a person can indulge in the luxury of self-recrimination without a safety net. At night, alone with one’s thoughts and memories and with unrestrained acknowledgement of one’s motives, one can explore the rivers that wash away the delicate shores of the soul. Sitting awake in the middle of the night, when the rest of the world is asleep and preparing for the onslaught of day, one is given a stark and unpleasant opportunity to reflect on one’s humanity and to consider whether “humanity” is an apt term to apply to the scourge of which we humans are a part.

The news is full of rancor, reporting on and encouraging attacks on all manner of deviance manifested by people in the political and entertainment spotlights. The attacks are warranted, but they deflect from the images we all see in the mirror. Outrage against unspeakable behaviors masks, or perhaps drowns, the outrage we ought to feel about “lesser” crimes we see, or commit, every day. Crimes like spousal abuse, child abuse, bullying, road rage, genocide, mindless hatred. But the more public crimes, the crimes that awaken and incense us, flood our minds, washing away the more common transgressions.

Night time is a time of hopelessness. It is a time during which the ugly side of humanity can be honestly and fearlessly examined. Night time reveals the hopeless tide in which we swim and in which, ultimately, we will drown. Hope is all we have, yet hope is an illusion with no basis in reality. The future is a quagmire, just like the present. Humanity will not recover from its afflictions because humanity, itself, is the affliction. Greed and corruption and contempt are our natural states. Pockets of decency, when they bubble to the surface, are dispatched quickly enough; empathy and sympathy and caring are the outlier emotions that must be smothered under emotions more suited to our murderous souls.

Decency is stretched thin. It is wearing through and dissolving, replaced by hubris and raw arrogance. For some reason, a film I watched earlier this year is on my mind.  I don’t feel at home in this world anymore. But, then, I never did. I no longer hold out hope. Hope is like a drug; it offers a promise of relief, but instead it simply delays the collapse of the body’s defenses. It’s now four in the morning and I feel no less dejected and forlorn than when I started writing this meaningless diatribe. If I had access to large quantities of Ambien or some other sleeping pills, I might swallow the whole batch. But I don’t, so instead I’ll brew another cup of coffee and read Shakespearean sonnets. Let’s see if I can recall sonnet 116:

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken.
It is the star to every wand’ring bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me prov’d,
I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.

If I can keep those words and the thoughts they conjure in my mind—those words, read as part of my wedding vows by a Unitarian minister—I might survive for awhile longer. Even in this deep and ugly abyss of depression or whatever it is that got me out of bed and is keeping me awake in the wee hours, the language of the bard gives me hope. I don’t know just why, though. The words remain illusions, too. Shakespeare painted a picture with words. Just as a Rembrandt painting does not represent reality, neither does a Shakespeare sonnet. Both of them, though, represent hope. Hope. That tragic lie, that dissembler, that thief of reason. With enough words and paint, even this world in which we live can be made to seem tolerable, if only for awhile.

Coffee. That’s what I need. If it weren’t for the lack of good beans, I’d make a bit of espresso. But I’ll have to settle for French roast, not a bad fall-back. I’m in the mood for a cigarette, too. I haven’t smoked in thirteen years, but for some reason I think a cigarette would be quite nice right now. Or maybe a cigar. It’s only been thirteen years? It seems longer.

I wonder who else is awake at this hour? Who else is wrestling with emotional roller-coasters that plunge into dark, cavernous emptiness? Who else looks at the landscape of the universe and sees desolate plains that stretch toward eternity? Who else sees a dim glow of possibility on the horizon, a thousand light years away? Whoever it is, she or he is my kindred spirit, I think. We share a gloom that’s just shy of suicidal, yet we feel there’s warmth out there somewhere, if only enough of us…like souls…can find it and feed it. But there’s never enough time, in all of humanity’s time on earth, to stoke the right fires. Decency, compassion, love. They’re too fragile to survive. They’ve been battling for ever so long and they are losing their strength. Their foes are in the midst of a feeding frenzy and it’s just a matter of time before it’s over.

Glimmers of hope are dying embers. Perhaps I’ll douse them now with that next cup of coffee.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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