Why We Stay Up Late

What do we stay up late for these days?

We stay up to read about our friends on the Internet. Say what you will about Facebook, it brings you closer. There’s a woman in Colorado who once lived just five minutes from me here in New England. I knew her not at all then, except by repute as a writing tutor to the young. And I was jealous, knowing her this way. “What’s wrong with ME that I’m not a writing tutor to the young?” is all I could think when I heard her name.

Today she lives among those mountains. Somehow we found each other on Facebook and now almost I every day I feel her gentle spirit as she shares a thought or a photo. (And my, how she loves her dogs! If they added to the Seven Cardinal Virtues surely loving animals would be right up near the top.)

So we stay up to check on one another.

We stay up with sick children. Also with children having nightmares, hallucinations, irrational fears. We have them ourselves.

We stay up late to watch YouTube videos like the one I recently posted of the grand swoop of that owl with his mighty thighs and his outward-reaching talons as he comes to snatch up his prey. A video like that thrills us, clear witness as it is that something is coming for us too, something fierce and strong.

I stayed up so late a few nights ago I had a kind of waking dream. It was of my grandfather about whom I have never dreamed even once since his death 50 years ago.

As a small child I felt so safe living in his house as we did. In my dream I didn’t notice him until someone said “Hey did you see who’s here?” and there he was, working in the garden out behind the farmhouse where he passed his boyhood in the 1880s. I recognized the place because I have every picture he ever took.

Also every journal he ever wrote in.

I have his degrees, rescued from the attic and framed now, Also framed pictures of him both old and young. This picture below shows him in
his very first year as a lawyer, looking so proud to be sitting at a real desk with his own law library behind him and his assistant beside him, he who went barefoot most of the year and got to school only when they held school, the typical thing in those rural communities.

It was so nice to see him again in this waking dream. He even called me “Blackberry Top”, a name he gave me for the shiny black curls clustered tight together on my two-year-old head..


At my mom’s 80th birthday party I read aloud a letter he had written her when she was a college sophomore, eating too much and flunking French and smoking her brains out with the dorm windows flung wide to the cold night air. He knew she was doing all that – other letters were filled with admonition – but this was a birthday letter and it was only loving.

When I got done reading it aloud to all gathered there for her special day, she turned to her younger sister and said “Did you feel that Grace? He was HERE in the room!” Then, 20 minutes later, she closed her eyes and died.

Some months later, after writing to a childhood friend about what had happened, he wrote me back: “In my faith tradition we’re taught that one who loved you in life comes for you at the end. Maybe that’s what happened with your mother: her dad came for her.”

What a comforting thought! That someone comes for you, strong with beating wings, and lifts you up and carries you home.

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7 thoughts on “Why We Stay Up Late

  1. A lovely post. The internet is my link with the world. As a working mum, but also a carer I don’t have the opportunities most have to catch up with friends. I know people poo poo FB but it is very much my way of staying connected with people I don’t get to see often and it also is an important way of me not disappearing completely from their lives.

    I think it’s a lovely idea that people you care about come for you in death and feeling that strong powerful force of someone who has passed on at key moments, like when you read the letter, is very special and to be cherished.
    A lovely post. Thank you.

    1. I didn’t know you were a mother too, over there in England! Most of the people who pooh-pooh Facebook aren’t even on it of course so … what do they know right? 😉 Thanks for this distant friend. Anyway you and I will stay positive !

  2. It’s so wonderful that we can connect with each other through the internet even though we’ve never met. It was really nice how you wrote about passing on in a positive way.Too many people think death is the end, but it is not. It is the continuation of our journey. E=MCsquared (energy never disappears it only changes form). Perhaps this is the scientific formula? Anyway, thanks for sharing-it was a very moving post.

  3. Although I do not “do” Facebook, I applaud it’s capabilities of union. Writing brought me back together with old friends..in this case..an article written by you..forwarded to me by Mother and there you have it…over 30 years of parting reeled in by a simple bit of mail and the written word…now my High School English teacher and friend is back! The written word! Deo Gratis!

    I stay up late reading…and regret it when the alarm strikes 4:15 A.M.

  4. Juddy is handsome. I have a copy of another young photo of him in my Fernwood stuff. Grace looks so much like him.

    That adorable Terry Sheehy in her sun dress! That’s how I remember you.

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