At three in the morning, I sit awake, exhausted, doubting. Out the large south window, stars flicker in the darkness as I ponder how much energy it takes to simply be a writer.
Too much. I don’t know if I can keep doing what I do, or if it’s worth it. There’s more to the living of life than my limited scope of passions and my small, quiet solitudes.
The stars turn by, and I try to imagine life without artistic endeavour. I see a field of green grass, rollicked by a hot, empty wind. It’s a standing-still place that leads nowhere. It is mundane, routine, a lostness wherein I become invisible, an unpersonified ghost. A quick-withering blade of grass among a horde of others just the same, all drying husks.
How much, asks the voice in the back of my head, how much energy does it take to make a sky full of stars?
The very thought makes me all the more tired. The Creator never grows weary; I’m always ready to lie down and fall asleep. His understanding is inscrutable; mine is too, but due to its sheer puniness, not its vastness.
He gives strength to the weary, but I think that something about this picture is wrong, very wrong, if I feel so tired as I do.
Of course, I am sick. I noticed it when we went camping last weekend. It felt like an ongoing blood sugar crash, leaving me shaky and dizzy, not the usual out-of-shape struggle to resume activity after a long winter. So tired.
I went for preliminary diagnostics mid-week. It should have turned out to be simple, but it’s not. It’s becoming a matter of threading my way through the long waits of trying to diagnose an internal mystery. I wrestle the inability to eat a full meal without incurring pain, and the perpetual low appetite that goes with the steady low-grade pain level. They leave me swimming in lethargy.
To make a sky full of stars? Frankly, I’d do well to make a single meal without my children’s help. So it is that sleeping at odd times of the day has me awake at odd times of the night, doubting.
Life without artistic endeavour. It’s upon me.
I can sit up late and cry about it, and lose tomorrow to tonight’s sorrows, or I can learn to accept my limitations…all of which loom large, God forgive me.
“You don’t have to count the stars,” said Meg Murry, in one of Madeleine L’Engle’s more famous books. “You just have to know them by name.”
God knows the number of the hairs upon my head, slowly greying. He knows the number of my days. He knows the stars and calls them forth by name.
“Even in your world,” said a Narnian exile of the Lewisian realms, “that is not what a star is, but only what it is made of.”
So, of course, at three in the morning, I do what all desperate, existentially thirsty 21st-century people do: Ask the internet.
If you go to Flickr and search “energy,” mostly you get pictures of ugly tin cans. Also drink bottles. After that come corporate executives, and a couple of dogs flaked out in the sun. Then the sports extremists, followed by the rocker wannabe’s embracing their electric guitars and hammering on drum kits. Interspersed, a lone shot of healthy vegetable choices. Then more screaming into microphones while neon backlights glow frenetically.
A few industrial architecture shots, some random employees smiling in offices where one must wear hard hats. Then: a rainbow on a dark sky above a coal plant’s stacks. Nature overtaking man.
And then: A wind farm churning in the distance, out of focus beyond a lush field of golden grass blades, rollicked by a hot, empty wind.
Four in the morning slips by, and the birds begin to sing. The sky lightens. Five o’clock. I lie down and sleep lightly, for there’s something important ahead.
When I wake, the house is empty. They’ve all gone away for the day. The quiet is mine. Lunchtime nears, and my appointment. It shouldn’t matter that much… there are more important things. But I sat up late, reading back and back through words that I had forgotten about, writing notes in the margin with tears of thankfulness on my face. I felt the extruded shoreline of a farther country looming in the deeps, and in this instance, I’m not alone. There’s independent confirmation for the whimsical intuition.
The hands of the clock tick over. It’s time for that appointment. I pick up the phone, and I can hear the same sensibilities on the other end of the line, couched in a Texan drawl. The book’s good. We talk over how the rest of the year looks for each of us, what’s to come of this project. How to work around schedules and differences of methodology. But the logistics take a back seat to the simple knowledge that something real and true is happening.
On the page, we find ourselves face to face with what it means to be human, to wrangle with the sensus divinitas, the heartbreak and strangeness of sin, a personal, living Infinity reaching through the veil of boundedness which governs our days. Internal mysteries of human ailment and healing.
I stand in the living room window, facing south into the sun, and smile. If I can only find the energy to do one thing this year, this is it.
“I need to ask you a question,” I say.
“What’s that?” Quixote asks.
“We’ll do this in heaven, right?”
There is no doubt. This is just the waiting room of eternity. Here, I learn of bigger and better things that only exist as shadows for the moment. But something casts those shadows, illuminated by a light whose source I can’t see.
There is an Author who inscribes the pages of my days, makes something surprising of my flawed and shallow character. Stars are nothing like our culture thinks. The real ones spin along silently among millions, tracking through the darkness, in the faraway. Known by what they are made of, unknowable for what they are.
If I spend my days as nothing but an unquantifiable dot on the canvas, that’s okay. There is a farther shore where I am known by name. To founder amid those shoals is the most beautiful kind of shipwreck; the turning tide of fortune is nothing to be feared.
Doubts live and die with the turning of the clock’s hands. At three in the afternoon, I sit awake before a manuscript, still exhausted.
I don’t know how this story ends.
And yet, I do.