Worries. Sometimes they are spring-loaded, and they bounce out in front of you like scary clowns on a ghost train. They can swarm like industrious bees occupying your mind. Or they might fall from a great height, gaining speed, hitting you ‘splat’ in the chest, winding you. Often, though, they come alive at night, as energetic and scratching as the as the mice that run up and down the hollow walls of my tenement flat. One minute you are fast asleep, the next, you are wide-awake, seemingly for no reason. A claymore mine has exploded, tearing you from your dreams. And so it is, we can find ourselves, in the wee small hours of the morning, unable to sleep.
The list can be an endless: sickness, exams, damp patches, bills, a deadline, stalled renovations, that noise the car’s making, in love, out of love, what she said to you at work today, the future, the past, the present. There is no end. We can even order our worries: identify; name; describe; classify. We can let the least worrisome drop off the list for a while; until we remember it again, then – whoosh! – it’s back as a contender.
These days, I often meet myself at 4am. Thankfully, it’s not always worries knocking on my door. Most of the time it’s just plain old wakefulness. When I’m not listening to the mice in the walls, I’m humming ‘In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning’, to get me back over. Don’t try it, it doesn’t work, for me it just prolonged the ruminating. Remember it, though? It’s an old song. Old Blue Eyes sang it in the fifties, and it gained a new audience when Carly Simon’s version was included in the soundtrack to the film ‘Sleepless in Seattle’. For a whole generation it’s now the sound of Meg Ryan gazing into the starry night wondering where ‘he’ is.
“When the sun is high in the afternoon sky
You can always find something to do
But from dusk till dawn as the clock ticks on
Something happens to you….
In the wee small hours of the morning,
While the whole wide world is fast asleep,
You lie awake, and think about the boy
And never, ever think of counting sheep.”
I think the song’s enduring popularity isn’t because of the lost-love narrative, but – for good or for bad – because we’ve all met ourselves in the stilly silence of the wee small hours. And it can be the most peaceful of times too. My friend, Y., is a seasoned non-sleeper who has befriended the wee small hours. “It’s the time I feel lightest”, she tells me. “I pull a coat over my pyjamas, slip into the garden, and me and my cigarette contemplate the night sky. Worries are for the morning!” I’m delighted to hear she can catapult her worries into space. Next time I wake, I pull the curtains and look out into the night and speak into the darkness. Try it.