It’s 4 o’clock in the morning and the birds sound beautiful but I feel wretched. I am writing through the pain and waiting for the Icy-Hot and the Topricin and the ibuprofen to kick in. The CBD oil that I have been using to manage this muscle pain for the past several weeks has ceased to be effective.
I send some writing out into the internet most days on Facebook but this post is going to be too long for that format because, as I said, I’m writing through the pain and I’ll be at this keyboard until it lets up and I can sleep.
What I think I have is simple muscular pain. I know my body pretty well at the age of 53, and what I know about it is that I localize tension in one section of it (lower back! feet! now my jaw!) for a season and then pain in that location resolves and moves somewhere else. Since June, and in conjunction with playing a very bizarre character in Stephen Sondheim’s musical “Assassins,” I have had deep aching in my legs and thighs. That’s where Sara Jane Moore lived in me, I suppose, and it’s where I stored all of the new stage fright that has plagued me throughout this production. I’ve been performing since I was six years old and I never imagined that I would be standing in the wings of a theatre at this level of experience psyching myself up for my entrance while a jittery part of my mind just one level below keenest consciousness relentlessly murmurs (but not unkindly), “You’re going to fuck this up. Just think about all the ways you could fuck this up!”
(If you have played Sara Jane, can we have a drink and vent about the RIDICULOUS number of complicated props she has to handle with split-second timing? The gun, the fried chicken, the joint, the lipstick, the dog, the bullets, the insane complexity of props in her verse of “The Gun Song?”)
While I was playing Ruth in “The Pirates of Penzance,” I got headaches so bad that pressure applied to a certain spot in my neck made me vomit (that wasn’t good for my voice but it did relieve the headache pain). When I played Emma Goldman, my ankles and feet froze into knots so debilitating I had to vist the chiropractor weekly so I could continue to perform. During one cold Minnesota winter when I was in my mid-20’s, my feet cramped up so badly I couldn’t walk down a short flight of stairs until I had been awake for at least a half an hour. Since the only bathroom in the house was on the ground floor, this made for humiliating predicaments.
My body often acts out at the conclusion or during the aftermath of a big creative project or especially demanding and intense season of ministry. When I much more actively and perilously battled anxiety and panic disorder around ten years ago (I consider myself to be recovered, or perhaps recovering), my panic attacks would come in the days after I thought I was in the clear for breaking down from stress.
It was much the same when I was growing up: I inevitably caught a cold, or the flu or once a serious case of mononucleosis (leading to hepatitis) after closing one of the many musicals I performed in in addition to schoolwork and after-school jobs. I understand and accept by now that I am not a marathoner in this life but a sprinter, putting out intense bursts of energy and focus and then collapsing at the finish line while others keep trotting along in enormous, companionable phalanxes, waking early, setting out and staying hydrated throughout the day as they maintain a steady pace and retire at a reasonable hour when the sun sets.
It seems to me lately that social media and the 24-hour news cycle have thrown the sprinters and marathoners into a big ramshackle farmhouse together where we can keep each other up far too late into the night and wake each other up far too early in the morning conversing, reacting, agitating and goading. I think sprinters may adjust to the relentlessnes a bit more easily given our natural rhythms of intense engagement and withdrawal, but the farmhouse is just as often the set of a horror movie as it is a party.
So I’m returning to a longer-form communique at 4:51 this morning to slow things down a bit, to avoid being the wee hour *ping* on someone’s phone who follows my Facebook page, and to see how I feel about engaging in this slightly less ephemeral fashion than what is possible in Mark ZuckerbergLand. There are no ads here. The eye isn’t drawn to a thousand side comments. Maybe it’s a little more boring and a bit more peaceful.
I have heard that 3AM is the Mystic’s Hour, when the veil between the realms is most gossamer and those who are prone to commune with the gods are most likely to do so. I have very dear friends who are in the Iona Community in Scotland right now and I enjoy imagining them starting their day with a late breakfast at this hour. Bangers and mash? Haggis? I just hope the coffee is good. I look forward to hearing whether the veil between the worlds at Iona is as permeable as reported.
Mystical union aside, three and four o’clock in the morning are also existential crisis hours when many who keep vigil over sick bodies, agitated minds, crumbling relationships and frightening life circumstances feel most alone and desperate. I hope it comforts you, as it comforts me, to know that monastic communities all over the globe are keeping vigil with you and praying for your well-being and spiritual safety. You aren’t the only one awake.
I have now been writing to you for an hour, during which I have also tended to the dog and cat who awakened to prowl and sniff around me in concern. I have had a blueberry smoothie. The neighborhood is waking up and the ibuprofen has kicked in. I no longer entertain myself with dire imaginings about what terminal disease might be causing my muscle pain (I am certain that it’s the terminal disease called life). My day ahead involves attending a legal hearing as an advocate, having a conversation with my outgoing board chair, attending a Zoom call about local immigrant advocacy and doing some funeral preparation. A demanding day, so I am going back to bed.
Here’s a little beauty from the Universalist Book of Prayer, 1895:
O Thou from whose fatherly hand sleep falleth nightly on the eyelids of man, whereby his body forgetteth its toil and his soul its sorrow; Teach us ever to receive it with grateful hearts, and grant that lying down this night with our souls at peace, and fearing no harm which man can do unto us, we may sleep secure in the guardianship of thy love. Amen.