Resonant Tones

This morning, I was awakened in the wee hours of the morning. You know when you wake up and you’re not quite awake enough to figure out why you’re awake? So you lie there, thinking thoughts until it finally occurs to you, oh, I’m awake, what time is it anyway? and then you try to go back to sleep…

That’s where I was this morning. When I finally realized I was awake, I started to wonder why. There I was, in bed, comfortably — but not too — warm; I didn’t have to pee yet; I wasn’t chewing my shroud over something happening in my life; the cat was still asleep; and I was still sleepy… why was I awake?

And then I became aware of the sound of my humidifier. It has a low hum, softer than the old humidifier. The product description calls it “white noise” – yeah, sure, like they called the power indicator a “night light” which sometimes woke me up at night until I figured out that I could turn it off by pressing – get this – the wi-fi indicator.* Wow, brilliantly intuitive user design, guys. Right up there with my sunrise alarm clock that is so bright, even at first light, that I can’t see the button on the face that turns it off, and I stumble around afterwards in the after-images. Oh, I miss my old sunrise alarm clock.

Anyway, I like the humidifier in general – it’s super easy to clean and gives a fine, cool mist – and the hum isn’t so loud that it usually bothers me. So my not-quite-awake mind wondered why it was bothering me this morning.

And then it occurred to me that I was hearing the same noise outside the window. It wasn’t exactly the same noise, this was a generator, probably a block or two away, so it wasn’t super loud. But it was almost the same note (A-flat, I’d say at a guess) just in different pitches. I’m not a musician so I’m probably not getting the words right, but it was the difference between, for example, high-C and low-C – only not quite the same note, so it was irritating.

Once I realized that, it really started to annoy me and I woke up completely. I couldn’t get it out my head: this coincidental resonance was making me nuts. It was almost a relief when the fire engine that lives down the block woke up and went out for a morning run, siren blaring.

Part of me wanted to reach over and turn off the humidifier and I found lots of excuses not to: it was so warm and cozy under the covers even the idea of reaching one arm out into the cool morning air was discouraging; the room was so warm and dry from the radiator, if I turned off the humidifier and fell back asleep, I’d regret turning it off when I finally did wake up; if I started moving, the cat might wake up, decide it was time to be fed, and begin knocking things on the floor until I got angry enough to leap out of bed. (It doesn’t pay to sleep late at my house.) So I lay there in bed, stewing, until the cat did wake up and the alarm went off.

How often do we do this to ourselves?

We are irritated, we’re not sure why, until we recognize the thing that irritates us. We might decide that we are able to tolerate that thing. Until we start to see it over and over. It becomes overwhelming but we sit and fume about it until finally something kicks us in the butt enough to do something about it. And then we act.

Have you ever noticed that, when you bite your tongue or stub your toe, you keep biting it or stubbing it over and over for the next few minutes? It seems like you can’t catch a break! There’s a physical reason for this: when you bite your tongue or stub your toe, your nervous system alerts the brain, and the brain represses the pain in that area. That’s a good thing. Except that repressing the pain in that area also represses the sensitivity – it’s like your nervous system ignores that area and you become blind to it. Like Novocain at the dentist, but milder. Then, because you’re blind to it, you don’t recognize that you’re about to bite your tongue again until you do – ouch! – and again – ouch! ouch!

I wonder if this is what happens mentally or emotionally to us. Something irritates us and, when we ignore it, we kind of go blind to it until we recognize it again, and again, and it becomes so painful that we have to do something about it. I think about a really irritating, abusive person that I used to work with. I could put up with this person, for a time, but then they got promoted to a position where it seemed like I couldn’t get anything done without going through this person: they were everywhere. Then Donald Trump got elected and he irritated me the same way that this person did. Also, the people around him reacted the same way that people reacted to this person at work: excusing unacceptable behavior towards others, behavior that was antithetical to the standards they held the rest of us up to; allowing abuse towards people who couldn’t fight back; embracing the alternate truths that were thrown in their faces; gossiping constantly about the behavior, so that it got to the point where you couldn’t go to a meeting or to the watercooler – or watch late night comedians or early morning news – without listening to someone monologue about the latest offense. I knew I couldn’t take two situations like this at the same time. So I left my job.

Oh, there were other reasons, other resonances that told me it was time to move on. But why do we wait until resonances become intolerable before we take action?

Newton’s First Law, perhaps…

*I won’t even go into why my humidifier needs to be networked. This is getting ridiculous.

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