The Night is a Friend of Mine
“Why does the night have to be so beautiful? As I walk through the night, I remember what Mitsutsuka said to me. ‘Because at night, only half the world remains.’ ... The light at night is special because the overwhelming light of day has left us, and the remaining half draws on everything it has to keep the world around us bright.
You’re right, Mitsutsuka. It isn’t anything, but it’s so beautiful that I could cry.”
— Mieko Kawakami
If we live lucky, you and me, we chance upon language enough to express our hunger and thirst, to will our true selves toward fullness of being. So often, the words come by other hands, on loan from souls with zero interest or expectation of recompense.
Once, twice now, writers have led me by the wrist, through the dark’s chambers to realize my affection for the night. Often I keep watch long enough for one day to become its better; but I don’t deserve the name night owl—not really. I am not the roman candle Kerouac knew, scorched yellow and magenta screaming past 2 and 3 a.m. till I fizzle. Nor am I the manic spirit burrowed into a Tom Waits song, tightening screws and tinkering with the image of God till every piece fits.
I live within the night, and as the night. The night is a friend of mine.
Yet I burn the daylight, counting hours on my fingers till the sun starts its setting. Swallow me, I sing in a love song to arriving layers of gray, royal purple, blue-black.
I know who I seek, what province I claim. Night belongs to the insomniacs and insatiable lovemakers, third-shift clock-punchers and the poets disguised as C-store clerks, crafting blackout verses from peeling four-dollar wine labels.
Oh Lord, I want to be in that number.
Night welcomes the best lightning, hums the strains of each lovesick American jukebox. Night is every drop of ink in a Murakami novel, spilled to stain the sky.
But for at least half my life, I let down the night.
I failed to show my work, my feelings, to friends who experience night as lack, as some secret-keeper or endless shroud. Then I met the silent part of myself in Mieko Kawakami’s slim, quietly devastating novel All the Lovers in the Night.
Night hears my expletive prayers, never judging; Night rocks me to sleep, every mother motion set to the sound of yawning strings and regret-me-not ballads; Night shows me colors daylight never knows.
As central character Fuyuko rehearses postmeridian glories, her words borrowed from a man who’s now only absence, night clarifies its call. I too draw upon the intact half of myself to stay alight. I live within the night, and as the night. The night is a friend of mine.
Among the few dogmas I still cleave to: Everything matters, and every light tells a story. These twin creeds explain what’s so unremarkable about a Wednesday afternoon, soft and bright—light on light illuminates little, revealing nothing or no one burning inside out.
Cloudy days come in a distant second, the strangeness of their shine and their unforeseen colors offering hand-me-down consolation. But the night knows no true substitute.
Night hears my expletive prayers, never judging;
Night rocks me to sleep, every mother motion set to the sound of yawning strings and regret-me-not ballads;
Night shows me colors daylight never knows—the cool neon bleed announcing 24-hour diners, the matchless contrast of white Midwestern clouds against metallic blue, the strange, momentary halo around anything beneath a neighborhood street light.
Like everyone, I squander what’s sacred sometimes. In college, I misused a series of nights, driving past a girl’s apartment like some asshole in a pop song that won’t age well, straining to read the stories her lights told. But I have also driven my son through late summer nights, the steam rising off rain-damp sidewalks to form alto and tenor voices around my prayers. Lord, let him sleep, we sing.
The second writer to open a door beyond the gloaming was Franz Wright, the late poet like a tortured monk with no monastery but night.
In “Night Walk,” a misguided errand carries him beyond loneliness into benevolent light; each pointillist dot and pinprick represents a person, adding up to thousands “who are dying to welcome you into their small bolted rooms, to sit down and tell you what has happened to their lives.”
The night bids me walk till I discover my most faithful self, somewhere between 8:45 and 9:30 Central time.
The poet smells a coming snow on the night air; his lungs take in clarity, expel something like love and hope. Like salvation. “It’s unendurable, unendurable,” he writes.
After Wright, night walks around my neighborhood seem like cathedral tours; each gesture further carves God-hewn space, each footfall touches sidewalk—that is, holy ground.
I have walked while the rain streaks, then sloughs off my hooded jacket with the impermanence of jazz. I have ceased my pacing, staring up and into silent winter skies long enough to trace the flight patterns of snowflakes. And I have connected the dots between lamplit windows burning like stars, rendering constellations major and minor.
The night bids me walk till I discover my most faithful self, somewhere between 8:45 and 9:30 Central time; till I breathe in time with the God who made the night and called it good; till I receive all gifts the day could never bear. It’s unendurable and it isn’t anything, and it’s so beautiful I remember how to cry.