‘In the wee small hours of the morning.’ That was the only time of day worth singing about to Frank, and he sure had it right (as he usually did). Stuff happens then. In the dead of night, you can guarantee certain events and life moments will happen that would otherwise shun the daylight hours.
My dad used to talk about how much stuff he figured out (had to figure out) over a tumbler of Jack as the lights of the neighborhood shone like lonely sentinels outside the house window. I didn’t really understand what he meant until I really got into my thirties, mainly because when you’re younger than that, the wee small hours are almost entirely benign ones for your life. Drunken carousing, greasy Mexican food, lamp-breaking sex. That’s the 20-something’s late-late night.
But then you get a little older, and then a lot older. The weight of things intrudes on your beauty sleep, which explains why my hair’s thinned and gone grey, and my eyes have deeper rings than Saturn.
Let me outline how the wee small hours of the morning roll.
Midnight isn’t technically part of the wee small hours, but it gets honorary mention, because it’s when you might feel the first unfortunate effects of that last double-whatever you ordered at the bar to cap off the evening.
1 a.m. is when your child will always wake up with the beginnings of a really good case of the flu. The kind you hear first…from down the hall.
2 a.m. is where all difficult-to-reach smoke detectors go to die.
3 a.m. is when your dog decides it’s a super moment for a random gastrointestinal attack on your carpet or area rug, even when hard wood floors are but a pivot away.
4 a.m. is my personal favorite. That hour has the dubious honor of being both the one time of night I most need sleep to feel rested (your hour may vary), and the moment when all my personal doubts, failings and crises tsunami over my brain and heart.
It’s when I wonder about the dance of direction and execution, vision clashing with practicality, and the head’s endless sparring with its brother soul. It’s also the time when I go searching in my mind’s eye across the world, seeking connection with the people going about their day in the busy streets of Shanghai or the souks of Istanbul. The planet shrinks. Anywhere but here is where I want to be at 4 a.m.
And lest you think these hours bring only the downsides of life, let me lend balance. It’s during these moments that all is still and quiet, so much so that sometimes I think my very thoughts are too loud to let everyone else keep sleeping. It’s when I can go into my child’s room and watch them gently breathe in utter peace, dreaming of splashing in ocean waves or the smell of Christmas. I can stroke my elderly dog’s soft ears and appreciate her unconditional love. And when all else may seem in flux, there is my wife in our bed, warm and welcoming. The wee small hours, as Frank said, are actually more about love than loss.
By the time you get to 5.am., well, sleep is far too gone to salvage. Time to get the coffee going, feed the dog and maybe set in motion some of those 4 a.m. decisions.
And within a very short period of time, the first light of morning comes to the rescue, as it thankfully always does.