I’m what you might call a night owl. My day often begins after sundown and continues into the very late hours of the night. In the morning, when the rest of the world yawns, stretches and gets out of bed, I am soundly and peacefully asleep. But since God created night for sleeping, my nocturnal habits leave me out of sync with the rest of the world.
There are advantages to being a night owl. We rarely experience true darkness nowadays. Our lives are artificially lit up twenty-four hours a day. This is a pity because dark nights are beautiful, peaceful, comforting and wonderfully quiet. Next time you find yourself under a clear, black sky without city lights and buildings obscuring the view, look up! A star-studded sky is awesome; stunning in its vast, unending beauty. It brings to mind David Hamelech’s Tehillim (8:4): When I behold your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have established, what is man that You should remember him? And the son of man that You should pay him mind?
It is a humbling experience, much too beautiful to waste in sleep. If you don’t have a telescope handy, or an open field, google “stargazing” or “nighttime sky” and look at a computer screen. It’s not as good as the real McCoy, but it will give you an inkling of what you’re missing. It’s guaranteed to make for a kavana-filled Shacharis the following morning.
Of course all this nighttime activity does leave one somewhat tired the next day. I suppose that’s why it’s so hard to get up. And when I finally get going, it’s practically time for lunch.
But it’s not only me who is perpetually tired. It seems as though everyone around me is tired as well. I often wonder if they were so tired in the “old days” before they had electricity and people went to sleep shortly after sundown. (And got up at sunrise!) Candles were expensive and only the wealthy could afford to stay up late – or tzaddikim who utilized the quiet, blessed dark to learn Torah until their candle was extinguished…
We moderns, however, can stay up as late as we like, and we do. But a true night owl’s day begins when everyone else is fast asleep. I begin to feel energetic in the late afternoon or early evening, and by the time the stars are out, I’m ready to take on the world. Unfortunately, that’s when the world is shutting down so I can’t get too much done. Offices and stores are closed; doctors, shoemakers and other people you might need have long since left their stations. If you live in an apartment, you can’t even give the house a good cleaning late because the neighbors are sleeping. So I try hard to fit in with the rest of the world and do what they’re doing when they are doing it, but I rarely succeed. I go to bed earlier than I’d like, but later than most other people. And I do not fall asleep.
Bed is where I get in my daily quota of Tehillim. Then I read. (One cannot possibly go to sleep without first reading something of interest. There’s never time to read during my short day.) When I finally close the light, I remember that I forgot to remove food from the freezer for tomorrow’s lunch, so it’s out of bed, at which time I recheck that the windows are locked and the heating off; or I take a quick look at my cell phone to see if anyone tried to contact me (at 1 A.M.!). Sometimes the quick look takes longer than I had planned although I never allow myself to check my email at night. That would take longer still.
Finally, comfortably ensconced in bed, I say Krias Shema and wait for blissful sleep to descend and envelop me in its embracing arms. All that descends is an annoying fly. Or a mosquito (I forgot to close one of the windows). I get up to swat it. Back to bed. I practice relaxing, meditating, breathing deeply, attempting to stem the wave of thoughts that are slowly gathering at the threshold of my brain. But nothing helps. I find myself planning tomorrow’s schedule and promptly remember what I forgot to put on my list of Things to Do. I turn on the light and scribble it in the small notebook I keep by my bedside.
My worries, planning and wondering for the night proceed. Will that shidduch we suggested work out? How big will the dentist’s bill be? Has my neighbor’s daughter given birth yet? Poor thing. She’s been in labor since yesterday. Maybe I should say some Tehillim for her? Should I try that new recipe on our Shabbos guests or stick with the tried and true? Must I go to the bank tomorrow or should I try my luck on the computer again?
I’m also very creative at night. Comedies, dramas, tear jerking tragedies all flow through my brain. I could write a ten-act play on a good night. The only reason I don’t is because the computer is closed.
At one point I decided to stop fighting. I’d live my owl-like nightlife to the full, enjoy the nighttime sky (we have at least a partial glimpse of its splendor from our porch) and I’d get up in the morning at whatever hour I got up. I might as well enjoy the luxury of not having to rush children out of the house to make the school bus or getting to work on time. And if and when I felt like it, I could always wake up early, go out to the porch and watch the sunrise paint the world in rays of light. (Then I could go back to sleep.)
And herein lies my dilemma. I may be a night owl, but I am also a Lark. An Early Bird. A Child of the Light. I hunger for the sun – the energy giving, life force of the universe. I glow with the first white beams of sunlight in the dawn, and I positively luxuriate in the warm, golden-orange sheen before sunset.
And there’s nothing quite like clear, cool, clean early morning air to invigorate a tired body and a sluggish soul. That’s why Shacharis prayers declare, “Blessed are You Hashem … Who illuminates the earth and those who dwell upon it with compassion.” Of course if one arises somewhere between late morning and early afternoon, especially in the winter season when the days are so short, the amount of illumination one can absorb is sorely limited.
But happily, the above bracha also includes: Blessed are You, Hashem … who makes light and creates darkness, who makes Peace and creates all. So maybe that’s me. A creature who loves the light and adores the dark and doesn’t want to miss out on any part of God’s beautiful, awesome world. The only problem is if one is both a night owl and an early morning Lark, when does one find time to sleep?