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October 17th, 2002

Late Shift Lamentations

 
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No one comes running to meet me when I get home from work. The house is disappointingly dark and silent, the loves of my life hours into sleep. Since there’s no one around to talk to, I turn on the television and sigh as I sit in the dark flipping through infomercials and bad late-night movies.

Getting home at one in the morning is something I tolerate, for now, because my prospects of finding similar kind of work, with normal hours, are limited. But I’m waiting for the day I can be one of those nine-to-five lucky people. They may have to put up with rush-hour traffic and eight a.m. meetings, but at least they get to be more or less in tune with the world. I feel so out of synch with the natural rhythm of things, eating reheated suppers in an office building, calling my son at eight p.m. to send him imaginary goodnight kisses. This isn’t the way life is supposed to go; it should be more the way it sounds in Psalm 104 (verses 19-23):

The moon marks off the seasons,
and the sun knows when to go down.
You bring darkness, it becomes night,
and all the beasts of the forest prowl.
The lions roar for their prey
and seek their food from God.
The sun rises, and they steal away;
they return and lie down in their dens.
Then man goes out to his work,
to his labor until evening.

Obviously this was written before the need for hospitals and 24-hour convenience stores, and people to broadcast infomercials. These days, around 16 million Americans work shifts of some sort. That’s a lot of people taking a chance on suffering one or more of the statistically demonstrated costs of being an after-hours employee. Scientists will tell you that shift workers face a higher risk of stress and marital breakdown and chronic health problems. There’s also, maybe the worst part, the constant missing out on everyday things. I’ve worked through countless family suppers and episodes of ER (which, despite my pleas, my husband never manages to tape), and I wasn’t there for my son’s first Halloween. I remember being so upset about not getting to see him cry his sweet head off in the pumpkin suit I made him. Which makes me wonder how upset he was. Does he know already how that feels, to miss someone?

I don’t have much good to say about working evenings. I suppose every now and then something interesting or important happens in the middle of the night. This summer I rode the bus home through a much-needed midnight thunderstorm, and got to enjoy the relief of watching the rain fall on my drought-ridden city. I was happy to get soaked a little later, running to catch my connecting bus. Sometimes the challenge is to find the spiritual in the everyday, even for those who work a mundane nine-to-five existence. No big insight to say that I might want to try doing that more often, appreciate these moments I would otherwise have slept through.

 
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