How to cope with bad memories at 3:00 AM.
There is a Repository of Mistakes in my brain. It becomes available for viewing at three in the morning.
Three in the morning is a low time. One’s metabolism has sunk to its lowest. Physical and mental defenses are weak. It is the hour most people die. It is the hour for viewing . . . mistakes.
I wake around three a.m. for whatever reason—possibly a need to go to the bathroom—and, returning to bed, I compose myself for the remainder of my night’s sleep. If I am lucky, I have a book in progress to occupy my mind while I drift back into slumber. Sometimes, if there is something of great interest coming up in my life, I am able to think happy, positive thoughts at three a.m. A new guitar that is soon to arrive will do the trick or an upcoming trip to a beautiful spot. If, however, my mind is without these distractions and my limited skills in meditation fail to give me some blessed nothingness, I usually get invited to view my ROM.
No, no . . . this is not computer memory—though in a sense it is. My “ROM” is my Repository of Mistakes. All my worst mistakes are there. Mistakes that I have long since forgiven and promised to forget are kept bright, shiny and whole in my repository for viewing at three a.m. As I groan and cringe in embarrassment and guilt, they are paraded before my eyes: An old girlfriend seeing me make a fool of myself; unnecessary harshness to a loved one; disloyalty to a friend—mistakes, big and small, old and new—all there for my personal, private viewing. They do not shrink or dim with age. All are fresh and clear dominating my mind with their reality . . . THE FLIMFLAMS!
If I am very lucky, my wife wakes up too.
“I’ve got the flimflams,” I mumble. She understands at once and puts her arms around me saying “there, there” . . . “poor thing” . . . the same words of comfort that were desired by Elwood Dodd’s psychiatrist in the movie, Harvey. These magical words usually soothe me back to sleep. All too often, however, my wife sleeps on, unaware of my problem. When this happens, there is nothing for it but to get up, have a cup of chamomile tea and read a chapter of Patrick O’Brian. The main characters in the O’Brian novels, Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin, are so wonderfully human and so clearly flawed, that I am able to return to my bed drowsy and comforted in the knowledge that I am not alone.
As I write this, I wonder if it may be our flaws that make us human.
I have often noticed that people are more loveable for their mistakes than their successes. Successes can be admired but are more often envied. Mistakes, on the other hand, when they are admitted, draw us into the human fold. Is it possible that we could strengthen our sense of community, if we were more willing to admit and laugh at our own mistakes and weaknesses? Community strengthened by admitting flaws? It’s an interesting idea that seems particularly appropriate for us imperfect humans. Perhaps, if I develop this theme and really come to believe in it, it will help me at three in the morning with . . . THE FLIMFLAMS.