Valley Voices

My midnight truth serum: daily dose required

John G. Taylor
John G. Taylor Special to The Bee

Just before bed, I reach for truth serum. It’s a gift of nothingness, no flashing images or pulsing sounds – save for a vibrating ceiling fan, an aching ankle and the outlines of a spider web at a joist.

I tune out so I can get attuned to how I responded to the day.

Often, about the only control in our hands is how we react to choices, both incidental and impactful. This daily meditation, if that’s what you call it, is not purgatory.

It begins with sensory fasting. Heeding the scriptural “still silent voice, ” it’s clearing the decks, taking stock of experiences, setting the stage for the next act.

Surgical teams call a “time out” to ensure they and their tools are aligned before operating. Yes, music is frequently played during medical procedures – but it’s not competing with everyone knowing their roles and clarity of purpose.

Most of us breeze past self-reckoning. As the gag line goes, we all speak at least three languages – English, sarcasm and profanity. Did we choose wisely? Do we wish we had a do-over? Do we ever question ourselves?

One pastor’s homily included this suggested daily critique: What have I done today for which God would have said, “Thank you”?

Consider what we ask our children. What happened at school? How did you spend your time? What kept you busy? We attach neglect or blame to the usual response: “Nothing.”

As adults, our good-soldier answers might raise eyebrows. Especially replies like “Nothing special” and “I don’t know where the day went.”

If we invest in second guessing, we may arrive at: Where did I screw up? Why did I yell at the dog rather than pay attention? Where did I give honor when none was expected – a smile?

All experiences are not of equal value. Holding a door open only matters when your arms are crammed with groceries. Cutting someone off on a roadway matters more if you’re required to jam on your brakes – unless, at some part of the day, you own up to making that reckless turn.

Some people fear being alone with their thoughts. Some have the experience foisted upon them.

The late Fresno Bishop John Steinbock injured an eye during seminary, requiring prolonged periods of total darkness. He used the time to learn Spanish from recordings.

Retired Yankees superstar reliever Mariano Rivera has had 60,000 people hurrahing or jeering at him. He routinely tuned it out and delivered. And when a hitter won the day, he took it as a lesson learned rather than a beating absorbed.

A casual mindset does not get you to that crossroads. Focus. Fasting. Pain. Deprivation. Isolation. Attached are such names as Cesar Chavez, Mohandas Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, John McCain and Aung San Suu Kyi.

We covet busyness as a blessing, the heartbeat of being goal-driven. And “nothingness,” if not fertile grounds for deviltry, is allocated the disdain accorded sloth, a purposeful disabling of God-given talents.

Taken as a whole, we know the price of very many things, but not the value of nothing.

Sleep provides distillation but is not an active recollection. Showers relax, but are more reminders of our desperate need for more out-of-the-ordinary time. Our day needs an exceptional bookmark.

So, before I surrender to night, I put aside my printed and digital co-brains. I dust off my memory and assess my soul. In my faulted scale of justice, have I left the world – my friends, the happenstance of those I’ve encountered – in a better or less kind condition than if I’d not drawn a single breath?

I’m often chagrined by my answers. Truth is a motivating mirror. But only when you pause to look.

John G. Taylor, a former Fresno Bee reporter and editor, is owner/operator of The JT Communications Company LLC. Write to him at