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03 September 2004

When the night meets the morning sun

OK, I promised I would do this personal post about my epiphenal insight in a therapy session and I guess I had better quit procrastinating and do it. One of the reasons I want to share this with you all is that I suspect that it is a very widespread complex of neurotic issues; it may even have a name. If I were to be privileged to name it for all eternity I would call it the Marvell complex. You know, Andrew Marvell.
When I am drunk, really drunk, such as I almost never am these days due to the failing health of the body, I tend to recite poetry. The poetry I recite all tells the same story:

In my craft or sullen art
Exercised in the still night
When only the moon rages and the lovers lie abed
With all their griefs in their arms
I labour by singing light . . .
--Dylan Thomas


And here face down beneath the sun
And here upon earth's noonward height
To feel the always coming on
The always rising of the night
--Archibald MacLeish

  Why, if ’tis dancing you would be,
There’s brisker pipes than poetry.
Say, for what were hop-yards meant,
Or why was Burton built on Trent?
Oh many a peer of England brews
Livelier liquor than the Muse,
And malt does more than Milton can
To justify God’s ways to man.
Ale, man, ale’s the stuff to drink
For fellows whom it hurts to think:
Look into the pewter pot
To see the world as the world’s not.
--A. E. Housman

And especially . . .

 But at my back I always hear
Time's winged chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
--Andrew Marvell

Somehow in the therapy session in question, I got on the subject of waiting for my father. When I was a girl, the oldest of six children, my mother didn't drive, and anyway we could not have afforded a car. My father had a company car. He had to drive everyone in our family everywhere they had to go (we lived in a suburb with almost no bus service) and he had to fit this around his busy schedule of work and civic responsibilties (both my parents were great volunteers and very hard workers for the common good, in church and scouting and general good works.) So my father, for all his good intention, was usually late picking me up. I never blamed him, but I spent uncounted hours on suburban street corners and in dull waiting rooms - waiting. And at my back I always heard -- guess what? Yes, even at the age of 10 or 11 or so. I had this heightened sense of my own, and everybody else's mortality. It started even earlier than that. It probably started when the family was very small and very young, just baby brother, toddler me, and lovely young mommy, who with the best of faith and purpose, taught me a little prayer to say at bedtime. You may have learnt it too.
Now I lay me down to sleep.
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I should die before I wake
I pray the Lord my soul to take.

When I first learnt this prayer it meant nothing to me; it was just a recitation, nonsense syllables almost. I wish it had remained so. Somewhen, probably at about the age of three, I was brought up short by the literal meaning of the third line - if I should die before I wake! What an appalling thought! Could such things happen? How could I prevent it? That was when I first fell into the thrall of private inward superstitions. That was when I embarked on the lonely road of extreme insomnia. That was when I first began to hear the winged chariots at my back.
Somehow, and I haven't unravelled this part yet, the fear of dying in the night became entangled with the dread of Mommy or Daddy not loving me (of God not loving me, yes, I get that part) of not finding love and happiness when I grew up, of never having enough time, of wasting the time I had waiting on street corners for a saviour who would never come. The more I look at this thought form, or whatever it is, the more connections I find. So far, it has only been a breakthrough of insight and not of therapy itself, in the sense of getting better. But I anticipate that next stage to come along soon. It feels, for all my current sadness and disappointment and nervous uncertainty, like a spiritually fertile time. I will keep you posted.

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