4:00 AM Detour

4:00 A.M. Detour

4:00 a.m. is dark, still, and silent. In recent years, I’ve found that I enjoy being awake, up, and about at 4:00 a.m. Not today. A splitting headache jolts me awake; where did this come from? I shuffle into the bathroom, fumble below the sink for the plastic container, recognizable for its jumbo size, pop an ibuprofen and swallow the last bit of water by my bedside. For the second time in four hours, I empty the bladder. Why a headache? This is not usual, I think to myself.

I fell asleep with the news on. I don’t think listening to worrisome news while sleeping can give you a headache … can it?

Come to think of it, I felt chilled yesterday. Autumn arrived a couple of days ago, the weather seems to have changed. A windy cold front breezed through yesterday. Sunny, windy, cooler.  Could this be the cause?

An unexpected headache this morning and chills yesterday … I think I sneezed yesterday. I know I coughed. Am I getting sick? I run through my last few days of contacts. Contact Tracing. I’ve heard that expression before.

Can’t sleep. The headache does not retreat while horizontal. I need to sit up. I sneak out of bed, settle into my living room chair, lights out, in the dark. While I secretly enjoy 4:00 a.m., this morning a throbbing head brings no joy. I press the palms of my hands to my eye sockets. My warm palms feel soothing.

I can’t read, so it’s NPR and Blue Ridge Public radio. I’m up before Morning Edition. The familiar sound of the BBC is on air. It takes me back to Asia. I spin the globe.

“The news is next,” the BBC anchor says.

Corona cases growing in Europe, India, the U.S. curves headed upward. The Paris climate treaty in a shambles, Brazilian agribusiness swallowing chunks of rainforest, Russian interference, the Middle East (no surprises). One story after another, all of it saddening and maddening… Please get me to 5:00 a.m. I have enough to worry about in the U.S., in North Carolina, in Asheville; the BBC world service will have to wait.

I’m not feeling so good, maybe I have a temperature? Where has this headache come from? Was I breathing heavy yesterday while walking? I can’t remember. I think I was. I ran six miles, were my lungs okay?

I had a cappuccino outside at a coffee shop the other morning and I walked past someone without a mask. I’m sure they sneezed when I walked by. Do you know that droplets travel over 200 miles per hour when you sneeze? I think that other person was singing under that mask just before they sneezed; I hear that singing spreads droplets. Maybe the ventilation inside was poor and they were inside before they were outside and they spread droplets and contaminated the whole place. I’m sure there were microscopic droplets, I saw them, I’m certain of it. I have 20-20 microscopic, and hindsight, vision. I knew I should never have walked past them. I’m sure if I had just traversed a different route and not passed by that table I would feel fine today, I should have been more careful. I wonder how many other people from the coffee shop are feeling sick?

Stop, Geoff, your imagination is getting the best of you.

The familiar jingle of Morning Edition marks 5:00 a.m. I’m grateful that it is 5:00 a.m. It’s still dark but I’m sure dawn is closer. I need to make coffee and follow my normal routine.

Coffee … maybe I didn’t drink enough yesterday and it’s a caffeine withdrawal headache.

I was at Lowe’s the other day buying paint. There were people without masks. Maybe that’s where I contracted covid. Rational thought is in short supply right now, it’s flying off the shelves.

It’s been 45 minutes since I swallowed that ibuprofen, why do I still have a headache? Wait a second … do I still have a headache? I use a tissue to blow my nose. Is my nose running? That’s a sure sign. I know: I’ve looked at the checklist of symptoms.

I make a pot of coffee, down two glasses of orange juice for the vitamin C, make toast and fill out the NYT mini crossword. NPR goes on about 201,000 deaths, the compromising of the CDC, the life of RBG, the gutting of the ACA, the work of the FDA, the leadership of the FBI, the future of R v W. It’s an alphabet soup of overwhelming news. I am so anxious.

“The most consequential election of a lifetime,” I hear from the guest commentator.

It’s 5:30. Supreme Court, undecided voters, polling from swing states, senators lining up behind Trump and his third justice in four years. He is fundamentally unfit.

“A generational impact is at hand,” the NPR voice says. “This is not hyperbole.”

My stomach hurts as well.

“This appointment will fundamentally change America. Health care, Medicare, Social Security, climate science, labor unions, and abortion rights are ALL in peril. This moment is critical.”

No wonder I must have covid, it’s all a mess. My whole body aches.

Division, partisanship, chaos, a culture war over masks. I’m disgusted. Where does it end? It’s mind boggling. It’s enough to give you a splitting, throbbing, pounding headache AND to keep you up in the middle of the night and to make your mind do weird things. Wait a second, a headache? Can’t sleep? That all sounds kind of familiar….

Is the world in peril?

“The greatest challenge to America since World War II,” NPR tells me.

I need to move.

It’s 6:00. I’m up, the movement feels good. I need to get some fresh air. I find my favorite chair in the sanctuary of my screened-in porch. It is a chilly morning but I find my favorite blanket, it goes with the favorite chair. I breathe deeply and take a full swallow of fresh, crisp, healthy morning air, close my eyes, repeat. My lungs are happy. I seek to settle my thoughts. Stillness and quiet, I empty my mind.

Then a branch bends, with a soft but noticeable and impactful wind, and I hear leaves drop to the ground. A reminder to never underestimate the potential power of a soft breeze. Birds are waking and welcoming me to a new morning. The surrounding trees slowly come alive. It feels like such a privilege to be here, in this space, watching this moment unfold. Through the trees, evidence of a brightening, cloud-filled sky. And, beyond those trees and clouds I know there lies hope, fairness, and the opportunity to do the next right thing. What a beautiful day, I’ve never seen this one before.

My headache loosens, the fresh air, the breathing, the waking morning, the coffee, and the quieting of my thoughts has neutralized, balanced, calmed me. The ibuprofen kicked in. Turns out my nose wasn’t running after all. It’s 6:30 a.m., a third cup of coffee … I’m back from the abyss, rationality returns after a temporary detour. I know it will be okay.