The department I work for is old; over a hundred years old. It has a rich history filled with many traditions. Some are remarkable. Others leave something to be desired. One of the most difficult traditions to grow accustomed to is the communal bunkroom.
It is at this point that I will apologize to my co-workers. While I refuse to name anyone out of respect, they will, in all reality, probably recognize themselves in the following passages. I hope you can forgive me.
I will begin with the issue of sleep. Specifically, the snorers. Suffice it to say that all of us have, at one point or another, slumbered with an augmented, audible expression of the function of our nasal passages. But there are those amongst us who are champions. My favorites are those with rhythm. They exhibit a sonorous repetition akin to a lullaby. Although slightly annoying, it fades with time into the expected sounds of the night and can actually soothe one to sleep.
Yet, as much as there are some who dance with fluid grace, there are also those with two left feet. These individuals are unsure of the poignancy their presentation. They alternate from deep, raucous tones to soft, melodic whispers, only to abruptly interrupt themselves with disgruntled snorts after which they roll back over into a full-on roar. Although initially entertaining, their unpredictability results in a cacophony of chaos that forces the listener to fixate on the subject's every dynamic.
Worse than this is two of them. Sometimes they comically complement one another. This is rare. I don't know if it's the overwhelming abundance of "Type A" personality in my profession or just the competitive nature of man. Yet, where two or more snorers gather, rivalries will inevitably ensue. I have heard two individuals incrementally alternate who was more dominant until the resulting sound caused the very windows to bow back and forth in surrender to each breath. Oh, there are brief intermissions in this orchestra of the obnoxious, but only enough to excuse oneself to the bathroom, get a drink of water, and return for the second act.
The absolute worst snorer, however, is the individual who can't decide whether or not they want to continue breathing. I know apnea is a real problem that prevents many individuals from getting a good night's sleep. But let me give you an example from the perspective of the observer. Here I am laying in my bed, slowly drifting off to sleep to the sounds of a snoring friend on the other side of the room, when all of the sudden the snoring stops. Now, I can't really explain to you how this happens, but after 2-3 years of listening to them snore, you get to know their sounds. You know when there is a change of pace or an increase in intensity. Subsequently, you become fully aware beyond any shadow of a doubt, that with this particular cessation of sound there is positively no exchange of air going on in that bed. At all. They've completely stopped breathing.
What happens next is a rapid series of firing neurons that abruptly wakes you from any slumber into which you were drifting.
Ten seconds go by.
"Should I go shake them and make sure they're okay? Maybe he just stopped snoring for a second and he'll start his crescendo again soon. Was that a breath?"
"I'm sure he's fine. Any second now he'll start up again. I'm overreacting. His brain is bound to want oxygen sooner or later. Feel free to start snoring any time you're ready."
"Okay. He's got a wife and kid at home. I've got to do something. How could I look them in the face knowing I could have done something and try to apologize. Ten more seconds and then I'll go....wait. Was that him? No that was the paramedic who just started snoring to fill the present void. Crap."
"He's dead. I know it. He's dead. I need the BVM, O2 bottle, an airway adjunct, airway kit, suction unit, med kit, and probably a backboard. Should I wake the paramedic first or just go get the gear? Has anyone ever called 9-1-1 from a fire station? I should probably just use the intercom initially. Should I grab the IV tray, too?"
I throw back the covers and just about the time my feet hit the floor this poor individual takes in a massive, rumbling snore that immediately throws the paramedic's rattling back in its place. Crisis averted. Thank God. Until fifteen minutes later when the cycle starts all over again. I don't sleep well at work.
Proceeding onward, there are the tosser-turners. It doesn't matter what position they are in, it's the wrong one. I confess there's a small amount of getting comfortable that needs to occur before I can drift off, but once set, I usually wake up wherever I resigned myself. Not so with these individuals. Their limit is about 20 minutes. Then, like a rotisserie chicken, they need to turn. Then again. Whoops, we missed a side. Now, somehow, we got inverted, gotta right this ship. There goes the pillow. And a bedcover. Now we're cold and searching for the blankets. What boggles my mind is how they manage to sleep throughout this ritual. It's actually quite amazing. Upon waking, they manage to say something truly astounding like, "Man, I must have slept wrong or something. I don't feel very rested."
Probably the most disruptive, however, is the category into which I must classify myself: the talkers. I can't apologize enough for the reality of the fact that I talk in my sleep. It's the most disruptive not because it's unnecessarily loud or grating, but because it piques curiosity as to what is going on. It draws the individuals who have yet to drift off smartly to attention wondering, "What in the world is going on in that alternate reality over there." Apparently I mumble with such adamant compulsion that I must be the moderator at a sheep-counting debate. "I see your point, sir, but the quantity of sheep is not the most relevant portion of the project. The gentleman is correct in assuming that black sheep are worth ten points. Daffodils are strictly extra credit and offer no reward other than.............zzzzzzzzzz." I have been told that I am so rude as to laugh in my sleep without even having the decency of letting others in on the joke. Again, I'm sorry.
And this is just sleeping. Consciousness is another arena altogether. It's comical to enjoy those nuances of social living whilst one party is unaware of their actions. It is another thing entirely to enjoy their subtleties of choice.
Let's begin with the thermostat. I was always under the impression that, generally, people were most comfortable within a range of 68-74° F. Boy howdy, was I off-base. Survey says? 99% of people are only happy when uncomfortable with someone else's preference. Thus there is no ideal temperature except all possible temperatures. This only presents a problem when one has so cheap a thermostat that it fails to recognize individuals as they walk in the door and instantly surround them in a "climate bubble" customized to their mood/predisposition for that specific day. You get what you pay for.
None of this accounts for those who have rejected the thermostat as a viable means of controlling climate. Like some sort of natural purist, these individuals must have the window open at all times. Including at night. In the winter. In 30 degrees with snow coming down. With cars honking and cats fighting and raccoons mating and fireworks exploding. Don't ask me why raccoons are mating under a car that is doing donuts in the snow while explosions of leftover bottle rockets penetrate the frozen air. I don't know. It's Bremerton.
Then there's the gas. That's right guys, I'm outing you for all the world to see. Ladies, take note. If you believe for even a minute that your husband farts only as is occasionally necessary and normal, come spend a day in the firehouse. Starting at 8 AM at the beginning of your 24-hour shift and proceeding until 07:59:59:99 the next morning, it is glorious tradition to compete with your coworkers in the prestigious Fartathon. This works great whenever these participants are grouped together on the same shift. But sharing is caring and our shifts care enough to share the wealth with everyone. Which means you usually have one to two individuals who gas out the entire shift. There's a reason we stock air freshener in bulk.
This diatribe could go on, but I think it would be wise to wrap it up with this last little treat of communal life. The absolute and utter lack of any form of privacy. You want to watch the soccer game? Too bad. We couldn't possibly interrupt this 14-hour Deadliest Catch marathon to accommodate your "gay sport". You want to relax and take a nap in the bunkroom? Sorry, but we need to watch this episode of Man vs. Food for the seventh time. You desire a little peace and quiet to allow for immersion in a book? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA, books. He reads books. They don't even have pictures.
With all these justifications for standing against the theory of cohabitation, you would think I would be the first to advocate the obvious solution: individual dorm rooms. But as I laid in bed trying to sleep amidst the noise of two snorers, an open window, a winter storm sending in tendrils of frigid air, and the scuffling of a raccoon wondering where all his lady friends were tonight, I realized that I would always support communal bunkrooms.
There are many reasons, but the essence of it is this: I don't like who I am without it. I know I could get more reading done, have a more peaceful rest, not have the odor of the wrong end of man incessantly permeating the air, and maybe be warm for once. But that's the point. It is all of it, selfish. When exposed to my brothers in communal living, it forces this introvert out of his shell and causes him to consider others. It's a struggle, to be sure. But one fully worth the hassle in order to learn about my responsibility towards them.
As a society, we are drawing further away from real relationships. We invent ways to mimic having relationships. We watch the news to feel a sense of community and believe that we are "in the know." We use Facebook and Twitter to pretend like we are communicating with others while leaving out tone, body language, and personal expression allowing for misperception and shallow relationships. We find forms of entertainment to distract us from real growth and thereby bury our heads in the sand. Our experience is daily becoming so exclusionary as to question our existence as a society at all. And it's dictating how we interact in the Christian community.
There is no room in the Christian life for exclusivity. We need knowledge of one another as individuals fully disclosed. Instead, we worship a pride of American individualism, a desire for separation from the prying eyes of another. But there is no place in the Christian walk for secrets. We are called to confess our sins to one another, worship together, learn from each other, and admonish in love. It's a calling for community, for painful honesty.
One of my favorite passages in Scripture remains a simple proverb. "As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend." May I never desire the dullness of a life unshared.
© 2012 Seth Alan Jackson
© 2012 Seth Alan Jackson