Friday, March 22, 2024

A Value to Silence

My dad in 2015, ready to "coffee" in his pajamas.

I am turning into my dad.

I have had a week of chronic insomnia. I don't have issues getting to sleep, I have issues staying asleep. I'll often wake around 1 or 2 am and be awake for 3 hours or so, falling back asleep an hour before I have to get up.

Each night I go to bed hopeful that I am so incredibly exhausted that I will sleep through my witching hour. But this week my brain has made it difficult to fall asleep and woke me back up around 1:00, no matter that I only finally fell asleep at 11. 

My dad was a chronic insomniac as well. Except it seems to me that he embraced it as a part of his life. He was a manager at J.I. Case in Racine, WI, in the 1970s, and they had a lot of issues with downtime on the lines that he'd been charged with solving. Later in life, when I was a working adult and we would spend time together, he told me that he did his best thinking in the middle of the night. He would turn the problem over in his head, look at it from all angles, and would often come to what was the best solution. Sometimes he was so motivated by what he'd just solved that he would go to work shortly after, so he could set the idea into motion. That meant that he sometimes arrived at work at 3 or 4 am, long before the day shift had started their work. This gave him respect in the eyes of the line workers, as he was the only "suit" who ever beat them to work. Those were the same days when he would arrive back home at 2, a little before the day shift finished their day, so it was a treat for us that dad was home early. All I knew as a child was that dad was home early, I didn't know he's already put in a nearly 12-hour day. 

Later in his life, when he was retired and living in the log cabin in Arkansas, his days and nights were his own. And yet, somehow, he often woke in the middle of the night. His brain, like mine, if not given a problem to solve at that hour, will create a problem out of something that isn't to give you something to think about. When I was pregnant with our first-born, her entire nursery design, colors, furniture, patterns, got planned between 1:00 and 3:00 in the morning. Designing and painting a nursery is obviously not an urgent "problem," but that's when my brain decided it should be thought about.

One day he and I were talking on the phone and he was telling me that he and his wife Terry had woken up early in the morning. They were both just lying awake in bed, so they chatted for a while, then decided to get up. They put a pot of coffee on, he made some Southern sausage with eggs, they had breakfast and talked about the day ahead. And then they went back to bed and decided to start the day later.

I asked him, "Wait, what time did you go back to bed?"

"Oh, it was probably around 6:00," he replied.

"So what time did you get up?" I asked.

"I think it was about 3," he said.

I remember laughing at the time. "Dad, 3:00 isn't the morning, it's the middle of the night!" His attitude was that morning was whenever you decided it would be.

And so here I am, at 4:30 in the morning, sitting in my living room, writing this post, having finished my first cup of coffee. The blinds on the windows are open as we have a snowstorm starting, and if it were light out I would be able to see it coming down. My dad would have loved our new home, our location with woods and fields, and wildlife all around. Unlike his extroverted daughter, he did not shy away from silence. He could sit in his darkened living room, a cup of coffee in hand, say nothing and take in the stillness. 

For the first time this week, I slept through my witching hour and managed to get more than 4 hours of sleep in a row. I woke up unreasonably early, at an hour when I typically would have said "it's the middle of the night." And even though I still only got 5 hours of sleep, they were consecutive. Wow! I am refreshed.

And so here I sit in a darkened living room, a fireplace flickering away, cup of coffee beside me, while the rest of the house sleeps.

Good morning, Dad. 

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