Things happen at midnight that we are not supposed to see. At midnight, under cover of darkness and sleepiness, the world busies itself so that we may wake up to find everything in order. At midnight, the date shown on every watch, cell phone, and TV news channel ticks forward in unison. At midnight, coupons peacefully expire on refrigerator doors. At midnight, today departs for yesterday, tomorrow fills in for today, and a newcomer enters the realm of tomorrow. Newspapers on coffee tables softly slip out of date. Our chance for last-minute accomplishment is renewed as our chance for an early start. Library books resting on nightstands discreetly become due. Another column is casually revealed on the week-long weather forecast. Good evening sets and good morning rises. Our lunch plans for tomorrow are covertly rescheduled for today.
This is the housekeeping of civilization, done at midnight to avoid causing a fuss. We demand it with each rotation of the earth, but we prefer not to see. We understand that the date has advanced when we wake up, but it is strange to witness the numbers roll by on a wristwatch. If we do, we are temporal voyeurs, as if, through the delicate window on a watch’s face, we have glimpsed the world in its nakedness. This is inappropriate conduct, a perverted peep at a stranger’s most intimate nightly habits. To stare at a coupon in the throes of expiration is uncivil; we owe it privacy until morning, when it has come to terms with its fate. We blush to look upon the world in these, its most private of moments, so we avert our eyes as they pass.
But we forget something. The world existed long before clocks or coupons or lunchtime. We gave the world midnight so it could tidy up after our imperfect system of time, then we told it to keep out of sight. Years later, we’ve grown cold. We forget that it was we who asked the world to hide midnight, not the world who asked us not to look. If we’re ashamed of our midnight, we’ve betrayed, charging the world with a secret and turning our backs. But in the act of witnessing midnight, we gain back some trust. The chill of a secret once guarded becomes the warmth of a secret now shared.
We feel ourselves and the world moving closer. If we can bear to look straight at a midnight.