18 May things that go thump in the night
You know that quicksilver breath between sleep and wakefulness when you are truly between worlds? In the darkness of both your own being and the depth of the night, you rest for a brief moment on a bridge between the deep well of your heart’s desires (usually a pastiche of near-plausible scenarios) and the dawn of reality. On that tenuous bridge, as your brain begins to sift the images into patterns, it often feels like all of life’s answers are so clear, like THIS is the thing you are supposed to understand. But just as you attempt to reach that infinitesimal distance toward the knowing, it begins to shimmer and pull away like a wave retreating through your fingertips. And as your synapses complete their circuits and you climb up the ladder to consciousness you realize you are awake… but instead of answers, your mind swirls instead with longing and confusion.
This happened to me a few short weeks ago as I awoke in the middle of the very first night in my brand new home. It was pounding with rain and the din created on the metal roof echoed loudly in the room and in my mind, unaccustomed as I was to the sound. This coupled with the apex of a year’s worth of elevated emotions; both positive excitement and angsty worry; as we made the decision to sell our home, pack up our life and move into a meticulously designed house we’d built in our hometown. Indeed, plenty of pre-existing stress to push me awake at 3am in addition to the downpour. But as I dragged myself out of the confused ether to find my bearings I became aware of another sound that surely was the cause of waking me. It was a deep, low rhythmic thump. Close but also seemingly far away – as sound can sometimes magick itself to be – it resembled a muffled pile driver, being operated underwater. thump… thump… thump… thump… Was it our neighbour’s heat pump? Had we not locked the new garage door properly? Now wide awake, I got up and in my bare feet and t-shirt wandered room by room through my dark and unfamiliar house, pausing at the front and back doors like a deer tasting the safety of the air, and finally down to the basement garage door to see if I could locate the sound. When I came back to bed, my husband had also woken up so together we lay there in the dark, holding hands and listening to the unidentified noise; privately reeling with our own thoughts of all the change that had taken place in our lives. The thump thump thump thump eventually lulling us back to sleep as it merged with our own heartbeats.
Alongside our anxious excitement, there was a simultaneous undercurrent of sadness and worry. On a profound parallel track, close friends of ours were also moving to the same community that very same week, but they were experiencing a very different reality. Literally weeks earlier our friend fell ill and was diagnosed with a rare, aggressive cancer. So while we were celebrating this amazing new start, they were standing in front of a very different, scary door, one that has already changed their lives forever. Rather than emerging from the dark, they were metaphorically entering it, and our hearts ached for them. Because in the end the shock of a risk to one’s health provides the answer that we seek in the softness of the night – the ultimate distillation of what’s important in life. Life itself.
The most important thing is the bit that can’t be wrote, the bit that goes thump in the night … your own heart – both physically and metaphorically – and the hearts of those that you love. Our beautiful home and exciting new chapter of life would be equally unimportant if one of us were ill. And when faced with such clarity, one realizes that our time here on earth can be measured in handfuls. We only get a handful of years to enjoy this life, a handful of good decisions to make, a handful of moments of acute truthfulness, a handful of words that change things. And if you are lucky, the hands of another to make yours full. So, let this observation from my own life be a gentle reminder to say what you need to say. Do what you need to do. In the evocative words of James Baldwin “go the way your blood beats”. Be brave enough to unstick the words caught in your throat. Be brave enough to create a life of purpose; whatever your age or situation. Because despite our hard work and desire, none of us control the ultimate variable, and one day the thump will stop.
Feel your breath move in and out
Taste the salt of the ocean’s exhale
Allow that which protects you
Close your eyes
Hear only your own thoughts
Know only your own heart
Walk to the edge of the void
See (only what you feel)
In the slow climb from dark to light
Make room for me
Hear my heart (going)
Beat beat beat beat