4 AM

Things are so much clearer, and certainly starker, at 4 AM, that it’s a wonder I don’t awaken at this hour every day. Gosh, but it’s informative. Particularly if you go with the psychic flow, a course for which I opt this particular day. It has become something of a trend, this waking too early. A lot on my mind? Or not enough in my bed?

Jane being very much under the career gun, and not always under the covers. And since we seem to be partners in sleep and, as a 4 AM e-mail might reveal, also partners in sleeplessness…one can only go with the flow. Which on his particular morning has me jolted unpleasantly awake for reasons that are temporarily unclear. But gradually acquire shape once I am sitting up. No, there is more to it. Once I am in a wheelchair and buzzing about my darkened apartment. Now the emotional truth of the moment emerges. Anxiety. Something is frightening me. Or disturbing me. Awakening me for sure. Might as well turn on the computer.

Why? Certainly not diversion. Actually, sleep. For me, cyberspace is as flat as my flatscreen. Of course, it is where I spend much of my day, if one includes voice recognition, that is to say, writing this and other pieces. And, yes, once stuff rolls off the screen and onto a piece of paper it becomes tangible enough to be taken seriously. Otherwise, it is enough to put one to sleep. Precisely what I am hoping for at this early hour. But no. Too much anxiety.

About what? Well, just a minute. I am currently patting myself on the back for having achieved enough awareness to detect the presence of amorphous fear oozing about the psyche. Which is not enough, sadly. Instead of awareness, what I have is random thoughts. In particular a short story by Isaac Bashevis Singer. This one not a magical realism piece from the Polish shtetls, but a very modern one, set in a Miami high-rise, with a very old man going about his day. What happens? Nothing much. And that is one of the points. He is old and life is increasingly difficult…this is the essence. Doubtless there was more of a plot, perhaps involving the elderly man’s offspring and so on. But truly I can’t recall. It was his situation that made such a lasting impression. Hurrah for The New Yorker.

What I really recall is a sense of the isolation of Singer’s old man. This seems independent of his circumstances. Somehow he has walked out on the extreme end of life’s diving board. And he is just there. It doesn’t matter if he dives or is pushed. He’s there with no way back. Down is a certainty, the only one. And meanwhile he has a hard time keeping his balance, not to mention questioning the very effort involved. The end. Followed by a note about the translation from the Yiddish. A living tale rendered in a ‘dead’ language. Another layer to the puzzle.

But not much of a puzzle with this, my 4 AM epiphany. That I am old. And at least at this moment, alone…and being pushed, tilted, urged, cajoled and generally tricked…toward the end of the diving board. Not that the body’s messages are particularly helpful. The most alarming of which currently involves my left leg. Note that there is only one, in a functional sense and, yes, it is the left. With only the left left, pain just above the knee is quite worrying. More than worrying. If my one leg throws in the neuromuscular towel…well, it is not as though I have a spare.

But the most pervasive thing is this. Despite every indication, I do have to reassure myself that Jane is really there, that we share a life. And as for busy…most of the couples in this neck of the silicon woods pass like ships in the night. Fraught, they are. Frantic and frenzied. Honestly, we have more of a life than many. I just need to believe it.

Joseph Stiglitz is a splendid guy and all that, just not a name that inspires flights of romance. After all, his is the dismal science. And the fact that economics tends to throw cold water on eros should not surprise. Which is why I was rather surprised when after having a splendid nosh with fellow devotees of the World Affairs Council of Northern California, not to mention a couple of glasses of Merlot, the two of us were seated and waiting for the Nobel laureate economist to begin his talk…when we began one of our own. Feeling downright good. After all, this was Jane’s day off, and yet we were here. I am aging with a significant disability, and yet we were here. Our journey had ended in a disabled parking space on the down slope of one of San Francisco’s more notorious hills…Jane wresting my folding electric wheelchair to the ground, installing its batteries, then installing me…and yet we were here.

All that and the US in decline. This from one of those elderly and robust Northern California Republicans – self-declared – who emanate a life of sportif enjoyment, suntan and a degree of power…but are aware enough to see the writing on the wall of crumbling civilizations. We talked, the three of us, while he reminisced about his day at the U.S. Open, Jane and I stupidly wondered what the U.S. Open was, he stared sadly into his wine lamenting the $3 trillion cost of this silly war in Iraq…before we headed for the talk.

And now we we are making the effort to hear what Joseph Stiglitz thinks we might do. Although, it turned out, he wasn’t terribly optimistic…. But we were optimistic about each other. Holding hands, even with me squirming in the discomfort of a temporary wheelchair. And we were in the most public of places saying the most private of things. Together. For the long haul. And now my challenge is to believe. Even at 4 AM.

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