Tuesday, February 10, 2009


Midnight isn’t what it used to be. 

As a child, a kid, much of your life seems like a failed attempt to stay up until midnight. You know something is happening after you’re sent to bed. Something really, really cool. All the adults and older kids are doing it, which, interestingly, is both the reason you want to stay up and the worst part of not being able to. You don’t get to stay up, but your older brother, that fiend with whom you’re conducting a silent but vicious war for your parent’s attention is getting just a little more one on one time with Mom and Dad.  As if he didn’t get enough in those months and years he had all the rabid interest of first time parents. And now that you have made your pink screaming entrance, he’s stealing just a little bit more attention as well as jabbing you in the kidney when no one is looking. Lord of the Flies in my own living room. 

And despite the secret price you pay in bruises and twisted nipples, you still can’t stay up past bedtime.  You’re kept apart, like the night is some holy mystery, a twisted trinity:  you, the supplicating mendicant seeking to partake of the evening’s secret sacraments, your parents, the cowled priest and priestess intent on preserving the sanctity of the evening rites, and Midnight, the unknowable, untouchable, unreachable God of the night. 

How is it that thou canst change today into tomorrow? Move a month or year into another? Who, oh Midnight, can know thy ways? 

And while we were never really thinking about our yearning for that pensive hour as some dark theology, it seems that some sort of religious energy should be manifest at the moment of midnight, this time of conversion, when the clocks tick once and tomorrow is born of yesterday. Something should happen to us, or the animals, or the earth.  A flash of static across the sky as the machine resets and starts over.  Maybe a little blinking cursor in the eastern horizon. The Windows Divine version start-up menu: Run\program\\earthsky.   Our hearts should skip. Our breath should catch.

Nothing of the sort. One moment passes into the next.  The continuous process that we strive to parse into parcels remains indivisible.

The first midnight I remember of my childhood was a New Years Eve. This midnight carried the weight of a new day, month, and year. There would be fireworks and confetti, a large lighted ball dropping from one meaningless point to another, all signaling a restart, a begin again. Bubbly drinks, pointed hats, and goofy whistle noises.  Friends and family gathered together in joint anticipation.

And then





And that was it. 

If you weren’t watching with bated breath like we all were, you would have missed it.  Well, you would have missed it anyway.  We did. There was nothing there. Nothing changed but the clocks. One second was, then wasn’t, dying the little death of moments. And though we tried to seize, with all our cheering and jumping and kissing, that moment that is midnight, that is 12 with nothing but zeros as far as you can go, it was gone before it came, or at least, just as it came, indistinguishable from every second, moment, instant, flash, jiffy, twinkle or whatever that came before.

This was what I had whined and gimmicked and fought for?  This is what I had been chasing every night since I first felt the lure of the late evening.  There was nothing. Nothing but Jay Leno and David Letterman, Saturday Night Live, and two year old action flicks.  Ice cream from the freezer and popcorn from the microwave.  Ingredients for a general dulling of the mind and fattening of the body—feed for cattle self-confined to the stockyards.

And yet, something remains very attractive, very alluring, about the middle of night. For I still sacrifice to bring myself before that that time that is both latest and earliest, to worship again the dark moment.  I give up the light of the morning, the rising sun, the slow tread of dawn just to taste the invisible instant that is the essence of night. Giving it up for what?

And this is, essentially, my complaint: that I (and most likely you) am looking for something in the hidden hours that doesn’t exist, something that I won’t seek in the day’s light.  And isn’t all this just so sneaky and furtive?  The imagery is all dim and dank back alleys, the corner behind the giant garbage can, up against the slimy and graffitied brick. Midnight used to have a reverential majesty, but now my eyes have adjusted to the darkness, and I can see Midnight’s gaunt figure, wrapped in royal robes, grinning from his throne.

And yet, I still bring myself to worship at that dark moment that is both latest and earliest.  I give up the light of the morning, the rising sun, the slow tread of dawn just to taste the invisible instant that is the essence of night.