Morning Darkness and Light

Another one of those odd nearly-sleepless nights. Here is it, barely past 4, and I’ve been awake for almost three hours and out of bed for a bit more than an hour. No matter how I tried to settle my mind, thoughts roared through it like a runaway train full of terrified passengers.

I was not terrified, though. I was resigned to the fact that, eventually, the train would derail—probably as it crossed a trestle high above a raging river—and that would be that. No one knew the train was out of control. No one knew there was a trestle over that canyon. In fact, no one knew about that canyon. The wreckage of the train would not be discovered for years. Perhaps decades. All the once-terrified passengers who perished in the fiery crash were anonymous. And the engineer—me—had failed to mention to anyone that he was going for a joy ride.

That is how the mind works at 4 a.m. It fabricates impossibilities and weaves them into ugly, imperfect, unreliable cloth. The kind of cloth that, if used to make clothing, would not hold threads at the seams—the garments would fall away at the most inopportune times, like crossing in front of cars at a busy intersection at rush hour on the way to an important, life-changing job interview. Imagine the distress a person might feel if he were to be suddenly, unintentionally, and irreparably nude just moments before a crucial life event. See. That’s how the mind works in the pre-dawn darkness after a mostly sleepless night. Ach!

Simplicity is the final achievement. After one has played a vast quantity of notes and more notes, it is simplicity that emerges as the crowning reward of art.

~ Frederic Chopin ~


Among the thoughts that kept me from getting back to sleep when I woke around 1 a.m. has to do with the separation of church and state. Though I have long been a fierce advocate of that separation—requiring an unbreachable wall—I suddenly questioned the legitimacy of that position. It occurred to me that religion and government/politics both rely on adherents’/constituents collective agreement about values. Though “the church” should not interfere in the mechanics of government (and vice versa), there can be no absolute distinction between the tenets of the two. The dividing line is naturally blurred. When the values that undergird either politics or religion begin to shift, the adherents of one or the other (or both) experience discomfort. That discomfort can lead to calls to install doors in the wall—or demands that it be torn down. Depending on which side of the wall a person believes best reflects his values, he will naturally demand that side assume superiority. The solution, if there is one, would be to engage the uncomfortable parties in a deep discussion of values, with the objective of memorializing (on both sides) the ones that are shared; those values would be used to reconstruct the wall. Where differences exist, they would fall on one side or the other; neither side would meddle in the affairs of the other. Perhaps it is not that simple. But that’s where my mind went. Though I still favor separation of church and state to the extent possible and reasonable, I think we should recognize that the two cannot be inextricably separated because both share values that are common to the societies in which they function.


It is now 4:43 a.m. I have written a little, sipped my now cold coffee, and wondered why I think my deep night thoughts are worthy of documenting. I have no answer to that, other than to say all thoughts are worth documenting…if for no other reason than to reexamine, later, to find clues as to what led to one’s madness.

When I have projects to accomplish around the house, I need a clear calendar if I want to succeed in getting them done. For some reason, if I have to interrupt work on my projects, I rarely can get back on track with them until I have a clear day. An empty calendar. If not for a follow-up appointment with a dermatological nurse practitioner this morning, I would spend the entire day getting little tasks done around the house. But before I visit her, I will have to shower. When I shower, I feel my cleanliness should last for more than a couple of hours. Getting back to spackling or painting or sanding or otherwise doing things that might involve dust or sweat or both, after a shower, seems counterintuitive. Why get clean if, almost immediately, I will get dirty again? I try to overcome that absurdity, but rarely do I succeed. I tend to find reasons to avoid the dirty work because…well, because. I want to do the work. It is satisfying work. The results will be gratifying. But, hey, I took a shower! Damn. The logic is perhaps flawed, but it is mine so I will own it.  One possibility, of course, is for me to do a bit of the work before I shower, thereby accomplishing some of my project objectives and also meeting my skin-care obligations. Maybe. But I only have about four hours until my appointment. Giving myself one hour to shower, shave, get dressed, feed the cat, have some breakfast, etc. leaves me only three hours. Half an hour of pre-work preparation and I only have two and a half hours to actually do some project work. But part of those two and a half hours will involve post-work clean-up, so the time actually available to do the work begins to look like a tad less than two hours. With that kind of limited time available, what’s the point of even starting on the projects? Exactly! So, I may look for other things to occupy my time today—things for which cleanliness is appropriate.  Ideas?


I got word last night that the church door that would not lock will now lock, thanks to the persistence of the woman who recently agreed to take on the responsibility for managing church building matters. She actually took the locking mechanism apart and corrected the problem. While it is probably a temporary fix, it is a very welcome temporary fix. She had already arranged for a visit by a door specialist, which she will not cancel because all the doors could use some professional assessment. But the specialist’s skills will not be needed to get the door to lock…because she did it! I am a little displeased with myself that something as mundane as locking a door can brighten my day. I think I may need to explore getting a life.


The day’s light has yet to show itself, but I have written as much as I can without expressing thoughts best kept to myself.


About John Swinburn

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