For the beauty of the night


I am a night owl. I’ve known this to be generally true for a long time, but I’ve only recently decided to take it on as part of my personality and acknowledge it more. As a teenager I fell in love with nighttime. It was so quiet and serene. The stillness afforded me solitude and time to be alone with my thoughts that daytime, with all its busyness, phony people, and loud, raucous emptiness could not. So much was going on, but none of it seemed to matter — or very little, anyway. I even took up running at night for a time. I’d lace up my running shoes and trot up and down my street in the suburbs, about a mile or so. (Luckily I outgrew that — wanting to run, I mean. I’ve since decided that I’m much more of a walker, and that’s fine.) But in that time I thought that perhaps my fondness for the night hours was but a reflection of my state in life — that it was part of my being a teenager, and that I would outgrow it when my body and mind matured a little and settled down. My parents evidently took that view, and I suppose I adopted it more or less without questioning it.

Then I got to college, and became almost nocturnal for a time. I think many college freshmen experience the same thing — they’re on their own, away from Mom & Dad’s rules and restrictions, so they do things just because they can. Like go for long, long, long walks at night when the weather’s pleasant and the spring breeze blows warmly, or stay up just because they can. I did too. I took to it with a vengeance. I was aided and abetted in this by massive amounts of caffeine, so much so that it’s a wonder I didn’t poison myself with it. Eventually terminal jitters and a perpetually wound-too-tight outlook persuaded me to back off on the coffee, or at least be a touch more judicious in its use. (That, too, is part of growing up.) But I was still a night owl. Life just made more sense by the light of the moon. I felt free to sort things out and muse in the night hours, knowing that most of the people around me had gone to bed (some long since.) I found the nighttime to be my best time for working, reading, thinking — and to a large extent it still is.

Then for the grad school I went to, I had to become an early riser. Classes started early, and I wanted to still have a devotional life and time for myself, even in the rigors of my studies. I was forced to curtail my late night sitting-up for the sake of being able to rise early to make it to class. I didn’t mind too much. I accepted it as part of the bargain.

Part of my acceptance came from a summer job I had in college of working in a warehouse. I had to be to work at 5am, so I’d rise at 4 and ride my bicycle through the blue predawn chill to work. That habit gave me an unexpected appreciation for the early morning hours. I found that they too held quiet and solitude, but of a different sort. At that early hour, the world felt expectant, like it was limbering up to rise for the day. I was still by myself and still had time to think, but there was a sense of everything about to happen, or begin happening, that I hadn’t felt in the nighttime. I tucked that away in my mind and have strategically gone back to the early morning time when I really need to get things done, or to get a jump on my day. When I rise early and do my reading, meditating, puttering, etc before everyone else is up, then I’m primed and ready to work by the time the rest of the world rolls out of bed. It’s great in theory but as I am more of a night owl, as previously noted, it doesn’t always work that way.

Kids also helped reintroduce me to the early morning time. They’re early risers, of course, and the best time is when they go back to bed but I’m awake for the day. Then I’m free to pray and read and watch the sun rise, drink my coffee, and prepare myself for the duties of the day. Time alone, solitude, is as necessary to me as air — it matters not what time of day it comes along. Nighttime is best, in my opinion, but it doesn’t always happen now, for a variety of reasons. I can’t very well stay up late and not give a thought to my wife, who is reluctant to turn in alone. The pressures of work and the cares of life, as well as various and sundry duties, all conspire to drain away time for contemplation and solitude. Yet one thing I’ve learned in just a few short years, is that the quiet time returns, things become more structured again, and I can resume my normal time to myself. The solitude will always be there, and I return to it as to a far and distant country, welcoming, refreshing, and blessed. Being alone isn’t necessarily all bad — you just have to appreciate it for what it is, and yourself for what you are.meister eckhart quote


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