I never quite understood the term “night owl.” Seems redundant. Aren’t owls largely nocturnal? Are not virtually all owls “night” owls? The colloquialism falls apart further when one considers that the term is typically applied not to those who work a graveyard or swing shift, i.e., those who actually are nocturnal by vocation, but rather to those who have a tendency to stay up late, but still go to bed at night and wake up in the morning (defined as before noon, when the numeric portion of the time is followed by “a.m.”). The term used for the opposite of a night owl is cursed by the perfectly descriptive and innocuous moniker of “early riser” or its contextually imprecise equivalent, “morning person” (morning defined in this case as the often still dark early morning hours). Regardless of how these idioms came to be, I have always been a “night owl” and although I often find myself rising early, I am not now nor have I ever been a morning person.
But here I am nonetheless, awakened in the predawn hours with no necessity to be up just yet. Although Tuesdays and Thursdays are my “early” days, I certainly do not have to be up before the sun rises – 4:30 in the morning is early even for an early riser. And rest assured (for lack of a better term), I was absolutely “night owling” it last night; because my normal bedtime is usually around the first morning hour, today I will be operating at a sleep deficit. But something was calling me – to write, to be present for something that just cannot wait – and I am awake to head that call. It happens this way from time to time and when I don’t fight it I usually come away with something more than just a few more hours in my day. I should be tired, but I’m not. I should be characteristically groggy, but I’m not. It should take two or three cups of coffee before my brain can function beyond the instinctive level, but I haven’t even ground the beans yet. It is quite obvious I need this time to do something in the predawn quiet that cannot be done once my world wakes up.
I never used to be available for these moments. In fact, I can recall occasionally waking before I needed to for some strange reason, but I never felt it was anything more than just a nightmare or some other profoundly real dream that stirred me from my rest. I never felt that I needed to do anything other than find my way back to sleep – sometimes successfully, others not so much. I never viewed it as an opportunity or a calling (from wherever, I am not here to debate or explain what the possible sources might be), and I am not usually all that happy about the opportunity to be alone with my thoughts at such an inconvenient hour. Couldn’t these urges to write adhere to normal business hours? However, there are times such as this one where my waking is so sudden and complete that there has got to be a reason…
I have been trying to make sense of the world for a very long time – since long before my quest led me back to school. Ever since I was a kid I found myself asking those “big” questions. As I grew older, I searched in vain in all the wrong places; I sometimes consciously tried to find answers to what I was all about, but more often I subconsciously stumbled through the world believing there was no way to ever know. In a sense I gave up and in giving up I gave up any reason to strive forward. And while it is still true that those questions are by definition unanswerable, the quest for satisfaction is, in and of itself, satisfying. Understanding does not come in a discrete moment in time – it occurs over a lifetime.
And so the journey continues. I suppose that some days require an early start. Today is Thursday, my “early” day. I have to be on campus by 9 a.m. because (most of) my students will be there waiting for me. Between now and then I have time to seek answers, to listen for the whispers that can only be heard when the world is dark and quiet. I was called to this moment – today I am present in it and for it. But some coffee sure wouldn’t hurt.
Very Nice writing, Mr. Althouse. Be happy that it is inspiration, not diabetes, waking you up. Some of my favorite posts presented themselves to me at 3:30 in the morning. It's good to heed the call, isn't it?
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