Girl at window, Edvard Munch

Girl at window, Edvard Munch

I haven’t been sleeping lately.

I’d like to think the blame for my latest bout of insomnia can be laid squarely at the tiny feet of my three year old. She knows she belongs with us and that knowledge never seems more certain than at around three each morning. I can always hear her coming. The soft pad of little feet, quick breath sucked through a pacifier and the light drag of her blankie behind her. A push at our door and then she’s at my side of the bed arms outstretched. The rest of night is spent in an earnest demonstration of how much space a little thing can take up in both my bed and my heart. She stretches out and curls in and claims both until I have lost any room I was saving for myself.

I could move her back to her bed after she falls asleep, I suppose. But then I think of how rare this kind of thing will be in her life. The ability to walk through the dark to a place where you are certain arms will reach out and lift you to a softer sphere. I’m not ready to make her wake up in her own bed yet. There’s time for that.

Too much time.

She didn’t come in this morning.

But I still woke up.

3am and listening for little footsteps. As my ears strained, my mind tripped over itself. Anxious and full of the past, present and imagined future. Old slights and new ones and maybe that hurt in my back means something more than a twinged nerve and don’t the kids need to go to the dentist and I’m not trying hard enough and I’ve tried so hard and maybe life really has been as difficult as I perceive and isn’t it a miracle I’ve stayed pasted so well together and maybe it hasn’t been nearly as difficult as I think and isn’t that almost worse? The things I am too rational to think in the light, the things I am too afraid to spend time with in the day, stretched out and clawed in until I lost any room I had been saving for myself.

I’m afraid of this. Afraid of losing control. Afraid that maybe I would be waking up at 3am every morning even if those footsteps had never come down the hall. It occurs to me that perhaps my little girl has been keeping me company rather than the other way around. I like to think I’m stronger than this, but here I am. Apparently, all the intention and strength in the world can’t keep you from gasping awake in the dark.

Somewhere between the misperceived premonitions of oncoming doom and the regret that won’t make any sense around the breakfast table, I heard something in a familiar and soothing voice.

You may not be able to keep 3am at bay. It is not a matter of greater will or better exercised strength. Waking up poorly met by neuroses may become a matter of course. What you can do is decide how you will spend the hours that follow that first jolt of fear.

So I kissed Riley on the cheek and left our room. Looked in on our sleeping girls. Soft cheeks and softer breath. I breathed in and out with them.

Then I walked into the living room, turned on a light and began to write. 

The Known

The Known I’ve felt out of control lately.

Like time and life and decisions and past and present have joined together to make of me what they may while I sit and wonder what new conglomeration of circumstance sits around the next corner. The unknowable has pinned in me into place and made me afraid. It’s been a small feeling, big hurting kind of thing. When I find myself in that darkness (I have before and will again), I always turn to the stars. Sometimes I burn along with them on long lonely car rides, sometimes I write under the direction of their light. Last night, I re-gained an understanding of their nature and the universe they make bright.

Earth is a little new sphere sitting in an big old place. There are billions of stars in our galaxy and as they live, each one holds multiple planets - worlds - with the weight of their immense gravity. When the stars die, new ones are born and new worlds are pulled into place. Our galaxy is just one small part of an ever expanding universe. And our universe is just one tiny piece of a currently unknowable whole. The theory now is that our universe - so big we can’t see or comprehend it beyond 13.8 billion light years - is just one of many. That we are in fact part of a multiverse. That all those stars, moving worlds, galaxies and dark matter are held in a tiny bubble in an “infinite ocean of other universes”, each one encapsulated in a tiny bubble of its own.

I knew all this, but it helped to immerse myself in the known and the unknown outside of myself. Sometimes I think my world - the one I’m building in our four walls with kitchen table dinners and prayer and sweat and laughter and tears - is anchored to something too big to feel the reverberations of my heart. In the moments when my eyes are shut against the stars, I wonder how I can move forward against mechanisms that have turned since before our first parents knew their names.

But then I open my understanding to the light. The relative smallness of everything from sky to sun to cosmos helps me to understand the bigness of my existence. If we are in a bubble bouncing against other bubbles that hold entire universes, then my world in four walls is just as grand and important and large as the earth it is planted on. The successes, heartaches, wars over emotion and reason and triumphs of spirit and peace are just as relatively important as the battles and understandings of spirit that have taken place since man and woman first breathed deeply of the air around them.

The realization strikes and I breathe deeply like it is the first time I’ve tasted the air around me. Our apparent diminutiveness does not accurately measure the largeness of our existence.

I may not always be in control, but my life is important and I am the steward of the world I live in. Somehow, blessedly, that knowledge of smallness upon smallness has given me the courage to venture past the space where the gravity of life and situation would hold me.

And I am able once more to rejoice in the known and unknown.