I woke with a start. Cliche I know. But that’s what happened. My room was dark, of course, what had I expected? The silence spread out, blanketing the darkness with peace and sleep.
But I was not asleep, and something roiled in my stomach – the silence was not covering my mind. It did not encourage me to slide back into sleep. Instead the tightness of my stomach forced the peaceful silence away; turned the darkness into an ominous suffocating entity.
After a few minutes of silent desperation I sat up. I was being illogical.
“Men are mortal. Socrates is a man. Therefore Socrates is mortal.” I shattered the silence with my basic, philosophy one-o-one, syllogism.
“Being afraid of the dark is only the continued fear from primordial time, an evolutionary impulse meant to keep us safe, continuing into the present through millennia of superstition and myth.” I spoke out, my words restoring logic and order.
What had forced me into this state of wakefulness at….two in the morning?
A dream probably….one I could not recall. I had spent too much time orienting myself.
A light breath escaped my mouth, the muscles through my neck and shoulders released, and my eyes fluttered shut. I could return to sleep now.
To die, to sleep–
To sleep–perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub,
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil (1)
Hamlet’s famous soliloquy came unbidden to my head. Another night time invasion. My eyes opened, that odd fear renewed, this time paired with frustration. I merely wanted to sleep; yet I was forced into wakefulness by my own instinct and my mind that refused to return to its proper restful state.
Shakespeare’s lines tumbled through my head. How-what happened when we fell asleep? We lay, like dead, but we were alive. Our minds provided some twisted entertainment….but we forgot it. The forgetfulness of sleep. Now that was something to be feared; almost as much as the forgetfulness of death….where unless one accomplished something in life, you fell into history, swallowed up by the black hole like millions of others who did nothing, were nothing, forgotten.
And it didn’t really matter if you good. That’s the rub – that’s the rub. Evil men were remembered and good men forgotten. Insidious women far more than virtuous ones.
Wealth, too, accomplishes little. Aye, a wealthy person may be remembered, may set his name in stone…. which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things….nothing beside remains. Round the decay… (2)
My mind moved around and around, spiraling deeper into this despairing well of memory.
Forgotten were my syllogisms. Forgotten my science classes, logical mathematics, and rationalist sentiments.
In their place stood poetry and myth, chaos and infinite infinities. The expanse of the universe, the light years upon light years of stars all telling the same story. You are a speck. A mayfly in the course of history. As fleeting as the forgotten dream that woke you.
I lay awake for hours. Or at least, that’s how it felt. Time infinite. Caught in a single moment that would never end. A moment where the weight of the world convalesced into a single point, crushing me. Breath gone. The pointlessness of life all consuming, stealing the air from my lungs as completely as it stole my purpose. Who was I in the vastness of the universe, in the vastness of time, in the vastness of the mind. For even my mind was unknown to me. Just as the oceans of Earth were unexplored, just the depths of space were still the unknown frontier, was my mind hidden to myself. There were chasms within me and mountains. Mysteries within me that my mind despaired over, covered up so that I might breathe. Except now, except during this dark night, woken suddenly from sleep.
Disturbed from dreams, unsuspectingly attacked by the enormity of the world.
*Title from “Oeconomia Divina” by Caeslaw Milosz, line 17
- Shakespeare. Hamlet. Act III, Scene i.
- Shelley, Percy. “Ozymandias”. Lines, 7 and 12.