Thursday, April 1, 2010

Night Watching

As an athlete, I’m immediately excluded from being a “creature of the night”-- those who regularly see and stride past the midnight hour. Yet, as March’s last snow storm erupted across the Tahoe Basin, I found myself in a peculiar setting: wide awake at 3:30 am.

The world is not the same when the sun sets. The colors that normally populate the landscape-- all the greens, reds, whites, tans, and browns disappear, and become gradations of blue in the moonlight. Trees turn to black silhouettes; the snow, a pale shade of cerulean. The world is black and blue, in other words, like a bruise in motion.

The wind rushed through the trees, sounding like the crashing waves of an angry ocean’s tide. This, at first, is what I noticed when I opened my eyes to the dark world. No motion in the world existed, but that ocean-wind. The cats, nowhere to be seen, rested quietly. Steve slept through the tide which coursed over our house. I forced myself to close my eyes again, but there was no denying it: I was awake with all the awake-like thoughts that come to the sleepless mind.

Do I take St. Mary’s offer? I asked myself. Or do I stay here, work various jobs and wait until next year? I mentally paced around those two thoughts, imagining futures growing from each decision made, each opportunity not taken.

Finally, the bed was too much of a hindrance for my body which was an unusual sensation because I usually love to linger in bed, especially on cold mornings as this one was. But my body-- (has it been all the running, I wonder?) required I get up and move around. To pace, perhaps. And so, I made my way into the living room where I stood in the center of the room and stared out the windows. Yes, I stared.

The branches swayed erratically, as though possessed, all the while invisible snow particles fell across the ground, occasionally grazing the window pane. The forest appeared, despite the dancing, quiet and unlighted.

My eyes scanned the woods for a trace of an answer. I’m not sure what I was looking for, exactly, but I sought out objects that distinguished themselves from the swirling movement in the darkness.

Nothing but the wind.

I moved to the couch and lay down, and closed my eyes again. Immediately, the questions returned to my mind. And then, an image: of me laying on a couch perched on an ocean cliff with the surf roaring below me. Even in my tired state, I realized what an accurate image it was: the choice before me was as monumental as that cliff. If I go or choose to stay, whatever follows (good or bad) will be vastly different. I’m perched, in other words, at a crossroads.

Then another memory came: prior to running the Sacramento International Marathon, I got into the habit of reciting lines of Robert Frost’s poetry on long runs in lieu of listening to music. My favorite, at the time, had been the oft-recited “The Road Not Taken.” The line I try to remember, laying in the dark, speaks to a regret (or is it jubilation?) of having chosen one path over another. Of course, there are always such choices in life (paper or plastic? Jim or Bob? Beer or wine?) but this choice seemed heightened somehow, as though this really would make me a different person no matter what I chose to do.

I wandered, slowly, back to the bed and closed my eyes, granting myself a few furtive hours of sleep. After a morning cup of tea and the discovery the world was not a moving bruise, but instead completely erased-- white-- I decided to do the only thing I know how to when I’m upset or feeling lost.

I went running.

I didn’t go along the shoulder of the highway (much too dangerous in these conditions) but instead ran along the tangled streets of the neighborhood on Dollar Hill. I crested the hill and ran down the other side to a road called “Edgewood.” With the wind at my back, I had to slow myself down for fear of slipping on the snowy ground beneath my feet. The world, indeed, was white. So white. I ran to the road’s end and turned. At that same instant, the wind blustered, picking up tiny snow shards, throwing them into my eyes. I bent my head low and was grateful to have my own footprints to lead me back from this place.

I looked from side to side, but there was only white. I could hear the lapping of the lake to my left and the mechanical beeping of a snow plow in the distance to my right but I could see nothing. I could only navigate by my rapidly fading footsteps. And yet, I wasn’t afraid.

And so, in an odd and roundabout way, this is why I will go to St. Mary’s, despite the financial risk and danger of “failure”: to navigate successfully, one does not always have sight. Sometimes-- perhaps more often than not-- we have to look inward and use another kind of sense that tells us what is right and what is wrong.

And perhaps that is what night-watching reminds us of. When sleep refuses to come and the world is dark, we should stand and face the darkness which keeps us from “seeing” what lies before us. Such blindness reminds us to look within; to read what’s written across our inner selves and no matter what comes, we’ll have done the best we can.

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