When I was six years old, I learned how to tell time. I had some idea of time before, of course—I knew the difference between yesterday, today and tomorrow, and I certainly know the difference between “now” and “later.” I suppose that when I say I learned to tell time, I mean that I learned how to process and express life in minutes, seconds, hours. I learned how we humans differentiate between moments, and how we express our expectations that things will happen sooner, rather than later; now, rather than then; and on time, rather than too late.
My homework was to look at the series of clocks that had been drawn in my workbook, write down the time, and indicate what one should be doing at that time. I remember looking at the clock that said 7pm, and determining that this was bedtime.
Of course, 7pm is a very early bedtime, even for a six-year-old. But somehow it felt right, and it was a time that I strictly observed for two years afterwards. In the Caribbean, 7pm is around sunset all year-round, and perhaps this is why this time made sense to me. Sunset marked a deep transition from day to night, from clear sunshine to mysterious darkness. While industrialized life would later school me out of the idea that there is a fundamental difference between night and day, at the time the utter opposite felt true. I wanted to be asleep when ink had fallen over the sky—not because I was afraid of the dark, but rather because I was in awe of it. Its silence seemed to carry a deeper meaning that works itself out as humanity sleeps. I felt as though at night, the universe moved in a different way, and it felt wrong to be awake during this process. So, on the week I learned how to tell time, I also decided that from then on, I would go to bed at 7pm, wake up at 5, at the rhythm the cosmos intended us to.
This resolution horrified my parents. My mother consulted pediatricians, psychologists and friends, determined to find out if something was seriously wrong with me. Their social life came to a crashing halt, as neither they nor their peers subscribed to the “rhythm of the cosmos” theory that had so captured by neurotic, six-year-old heart. Our already-strained relationship with our downstairs neighbor worsened, as I took to spending my early mornings riding my bicycle in tight circles around our apartment. The creaks and strains of the bike no doubt disrupted the deep calm of early morning, but I was too caught up in my bliss about the silence and tranquility of life at 5am to notice.
Around the same time, my parents brought a new CD into the house. They were always bringing new music into our home, and it was—to use a word I never use—an eclectic assortment. In the mid-90s my favorites were Sergio Mendes’ Afro-Brazilian album Brasileiro, a tape by Trinidadian reggae star David Rudder, the soundtrack of a Bollywood film called Aashiqui, and a John Lennon compilation CD. This latest CD was called The Best of Van Morrison.
Van Morrison is a Northern Irish singer-songwriter who first rose to international prominence with the upbeat number “Brown Eyed Girl.” Many decades later, he is still best known for this song. But for those who are familiar with his other work, he is beloved for a rather different style altogether. Van Morrison has been described as a mystic, whose music connects nature, spirituality, wonder, and humanity’s yearning for answers that may never come. His music is open in a way that is difficult to describe; though now that I am trying to, I would say that its melody, instrumentation, and lyrics are filled with open questions. These questions carry us easily from the music, which evokes at every turn the land and skies of the Celts, to our wonderings about the places where we might find ourselves.
I fell in love with this album, though it would take almost a decade for me to understand why. I remember listening to some of its songs—“Sense of Wonder,” “Enlightenment,” even the patently Irish song “Coney Island” (of which I did not understand a single word)—and looking out the darkening window of my bedroom. I felt as though, with the silence of night, I was entering into some sort of mystery. Maybe we all were. Maybe we all still are.