How Do We Sleep? Part One

These thoughts I have, these beings who demand their moment on your screen, never start with anger. What I mean is, even if anger provides the heat for a new thought, that thought never bursts into life if anger alone fuels it. Instead, it gets stuck in my drafts box and shrinks into obscurity. Even if the thought merits attention, it will have to wait until it can not only take the heat but make something of it.

So if I’m not experiencing any sort of intense cognitive heat, I take my “phone off the hook” (more antiquated references to come) and let my current, cozier thoughts warm my toes like a companionable and contained fire in the wood stove.

But eventually the “busy signal” spurs these nascent thoughts into more extreme action. They wait until I’ve dozed off in my cozy armchair by the fire and then silently enter into my dreams.

That’s what they did last night, anyway.

In the thick of a typical “shoot! I’m a nurse again and have no idea what to do with this sick kid” dream, the scene suddenly shifted to the Grammy Awards. The emcee announced several punk/post-punk bands whose messages had benefitted humanity in some way. I could see from the visual quality of my dream that we were in the early 1990s even though the manner of dress and hair styles could have screamed present-day.

Everyone thought U2 would win. Maybe Rage Against the Machine or, even if they’d just recently changed their name, Green Day. So they were as shocked as the rest of the world when some no-name band from Australia got the honors. Their most recognizable song, Beds Are Burning, swept over the audience as cameras panned to the unprepared band members.

Not believing they would even make the final cut, the Midnight Oil contingent had dressed themselves so strangely that even the punk rock era gaped. In frumpy dresses and wigs sporting disheveled hairdos, the band stood up, shook the hands of well-wishers, and in a daze, found a side pew and sat back down. The announcer again invited them up and settled the whole unspoken matter, when he, thinking he was making a joke, supplied his audience with this explanation: “You look like you dressed up as your mothers.” As far as my dream could tell, he’d hit a hole in one.

I would be lying to say I’ve never wondered about this band, the origin of their name, or the meaning behind the burning beds song. Truth be told, in 1993 I had a crush on a guy four years my senior, a “skater,” who delighted in all music alternative: punk, hardcore, grunge, ska, and so on. In classic “introvert who won’t be silenced” fashion, I had kept a notebook chronicling all of my interactions with him and his younger “jock” brother.* I had even dedicated a page to doodled notes about the band names I heard on “his” radio station. It was the kind of radio station that I dialed away from when a parent knocked on my door: No one listening to 93.3 KTCL The Adventure in here. Just safe, clean soft rock.

I didn’t hear the expression “burning the midnight oil” until three years later when my sophomore English teacher suggested that if we wanted to put our best effort into the assigned essay, we would stay up late and burn the midnight oil. She even went so far as to suggest that we have our parents slide dinner under our doors on a tray. Perhaps I steered clear of the English department when in college (I met my writing requirements through philosophy and technical courses), but durnitall if I didn’t face that crucible in high school and come out a better writer for it.

So when I was in the nursing program at BYU-Provo, and one of the married students set me up with her call center co-worker, you would think that our three most salient commonalities–above average height, a whacky sense of humor, and being a single BYU student after the (gasp!) age of 22–would have knocked this one out of the park.

Our first date did give me hope that we had struck a trifecta. He took me to a planetarium that set a laser lights show to alternative rock classics. U2, AC/DC, and Guns’N’Roses had me at hello. I teetered with the Metallica and Aerosmith selections. But Midnight Oil? Count me out. I had always been disappointed by a compelling bridge and its rousing chorus that were punctuated by the croaking utterances of a man obsessed with sex.

[For someone so interested in song lyrics and their meaning, you must recall that I was in seventh grade when I made my foray into alternative rock. After the horrible overtures in my sixth grade R&B music and the mostly subtle suggestions in all that soft rock music, I began to assume that all radio lyrics referred to sex. So the protest songs that accompanied the advent of rock music took a little longer to dawn on me.]

Back to Midnight Oil. Though critical to the song’s mission, I could only pick out a few words in the verses. So there wasn’t much there to disabuse me of the notion that some guy couldn’t pay the rent because he was too busy doing what the James song opens with: “This bed is on fire with passionate love.” Since that provocative song came out my 7th grade year, you can hardly blame me for this mistake (except in my musical and object-of-my-affection tastes–I take full responsibility for those shenanigans).

If you are still reading, I applaud your faith in me. It is a wonder I ever get to my point when I have so many synapses firing at once.

Now we loop back to my dream, which is only the beginning of the thought taking shape in my mind.

I can only surmise that the sequence of events leading to having that dream and waking up fully alert and in a cold sweat went something like this: 1) I was too warm in my long winter’s nap, 2) my brain thought, “This bed is burning,” and 3) as my brain found a way to cool me down, a dream came into focus as a landing strip for the random lyrics that those words elucidated.

Today’s thought began with a question, “How do we sleep when our beds are burning?” The seedbed of my mind cools down far too often. It grows complacent. It says, “I’m so tired, so weary of all that is amiss in this world. Let me rest now so I can change the world tomorrow.”

In my quest to become a well-rested mother, I never questioned my desire to be well-rested. Of course I should be well-rested. How could I do my best if I’m always tired?

What I have hoped for when I awake in the morning is to feel rested. I want sleep to have accomplished some sort of reset in my mind and body that declares me ready to take on the world again. That feeling is usually rare and fleeting for me. This morning I felt it though, after too few hours of sleep, so I went with it. The pursuit of that feeling is one of the reasons I have an in-lab sleep study scheduled next month. But do I need to have that sense of having rested well in order to achieve rest?

Well, I think two answers come to mind.

First, I think of rest as a state of peaceful engagement with the world. Some people sleep well, others meditate. Some tinker at a hobby or develop a skill that brings them further into alignment with their true selves. Prayer, thoughtful dialogue with a friend, listening to or creating beautiful music–all of it is peaceful engagement with the world we live in. That kind of rest revives the soul, brings energy to the life we want to lead. Unless I turn the daily tasks of living into something that makes me more me, I probably won’t find this kind of rest consistently enough to be a well-rested mother. Maybe just a sometimes rested mother.

The other rest, one that I am willing to let go of, is the kind referenced in the Nelson Mandela exhibit at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry last month. (And how the ending of Apartheid and the reconciliation between a segregated people fits into a science museum’s mission seemed a stretch until I noted on one placard that the supremacists of the time thought science had shown them superior to all other races. Thank goodness we can put that hateful myth to rest, with or without science.)

[Stay tuned for Part Two, dedicated to women, like my daughter here, changing the world. Post expected on Christmas Day]

Among the powerful, timeless words I read that day, these stood out to me like a beacon burning endlessly bright**

As long as poverty, injustice and gross inequality exist in our world, none of us can truly rest.

Nelson Mandela, from the speech Africa Standing Tall Against Poverty, 02 July 2005

Why, then, should any of us rest, unless it is to prepare for the work still to be done?

To me, being able to feel the full weight of the world while somehow being apart from it, is the kind of rest that only God can achieve right now. Without His help, the weight would break us. Our Savior Jesus Christ showed the way to achieve freedom and reconciliation: He gave all. Even when He feared to taste the bitter depths of all humanity’s sorrow, he partook so that we don’t have to endure forever its effects. Because of Him, there is always a way to overcome whatever challenge we face. Even when our efforts and His grace seem insufficient in this lifetime, eternity will happily prove otherwise. His work is finished, and so in a way we cannot comprehend, though He does not sleep, He does rest.

Some of my friends, family, and readers unknown to me might ask, “Why all the He/Him/His? Why must God have a gender, and why is it masculine? What about the divine feminine?” To all of you, hang on for Part Two, which should come out tomorrow.

But to round out Part One, I will let you in on a little bit of my process. When I begin a blog post, I know it will bear fruit if I open multiple (and disparate) tabs from which I garner supporting thoughts, or I at least have a terribly funny story to tell. Well, this time the former is absolutely true: my open tabs included a talk from a prophet, a list of punk rock bands from the late 1980s, the lyrics to a hymn, a fact sheet for a protest song, the words of a renowned reformist, verses of scripture, and the framework for Part Two. I hope that you don’t mind if the funny story is something I read in Reader’s Digest or “Dear Abby” as a kid.

Time for Bed

Author Unknown

Mom and Dad were watching TV when Mom said, “I’m tired, and it’s getting late. I think I’ll go to bed.”

She went to the kitchen to make sandwiches for the next day’s lunches, rinsed out the popcorn bowls, took meat out of the freezer for supper the following evening, checked the cereal box levels, filled the sugar container, put spoons and bowls on the table and started the coffee pot for brewing the next morning.

She then put some wet clothes into the dryer, put a load of clothes into the wash, ironed a shirt and secured a loose button. She picked up the newspapers strewn on the floor, picked up the game pieces left on the table and put the telephone book back into the drawer.

She watered the plants, emptied a wastebasket and hung up a towel to dry. She yawned and stretched and headed for the bedroom. She stopped by the desk and wrote a note to the teacher, counted out some cash for the field trip, and pulled a textbook out from hiding under the chair.

She signed a birthday card for a friend, addressed and stamped the envelope and wrote a quick note for the grocery store. She put both near her purse. Mom then creamed her face, put on moisturizer, brushed and flossed her teeth and trimmed her nails. Hubby called, “I thought you were going to bed.”

“I’m on my way,” she said. She put some water into the dog’s dish and put the cat outside, then made sure the doors were locked. She looked in on each of the kids and turned out a bedside lamp, hung up a shirt, threw some dirty socks in the hamper, and had a brief conversation with the one up still doing homework. In her own room, she set the alarm, laid out clothing for the next day, straightened up the shoe rack.

She added three things to her list of things to do for tomorrow. About that time, the hubby turned off the TV and announced to no one in particular, “I’m going to bed.” And he did. 

What that story doesn’t tell you is that, were this the night before a big family event, the house would be covered in reminder notes, ready-to-go sundries by the door, food assignments, and a perfectly clean home so that when the man who slept all night arises, he can take over where she left off. I may or may not have witnessed and then carried into my own marriage such a pattern.

It also typifies the kinds of rest we tend to seek: rest because the job is at a stopping point or rest because tiredness calls for sleep. As a parent, or anyone who is trying to improve the world, the need for both kinds of rest is a balance not easily struck. But we don’t have to wait until we are stricken in years and ready to lay this mortal frame down to find rest. We don’t have to wait until all the work is done and we have command over all the inconstancy of life.

Whether I rest like a man or rest like a mother, I can engage peacefully with my world any time I want to. And whatever rest I do achieve, I use it to make the world a better place. That is rest well spent. And knowing His arrival meant the work had begun and that He would surely finish it is why baby Jesus slept in heavenly peace. I hope you can have that kind of rest as you face what life and goodness ask of you.

As for me, I’ll be wrapping gifts while my man sleeps because I couldn’t rest while this thought struggled for life inside of me. My sleep is not yet dreamless, but somehow I have to get all the extra gifts given since apparently the Wondrous Gift makes us all want to give a bunch of symbolic substitutes. Thank your silent stars I’m not giving you the stalker notebook I wrote about you for Christmas. Just a bunch of open tabs on your reading device if you read this post properly.

Merry Christmas

*In case you hope to find this notebook one day as part of my “early authorship lore,” I gave it to my crush’s younger brother, on whom I also had a crush, but whose music I could not abide as I had left it behind in pursuit of his brother’s “loftier” music. I gave him this journal for Christmas in 1999 and told him it was the reason I would never run for office–he now had more dirt on me than anyone ever would. That’s before social media was invented and we obligingly created our own dirt. Either way, I never have made a good stalker. I just can’t keep my mouth shut.

**Extra credit if you know these lyrics without looking them up:) I thank my friend Emilie Ahern, a true lyrical genius, for finding those lyrics for me two decades ago. If only I’d heard her song “Stalker” three decades ago, I might have saved myself and this blog from a lot of angsty alternative rock. But an introvert who won’t be silenced is probably what inspires both that kind of music and this kind of blog.

One thought on “How Do We Sleep? Part One

  1. Pingback: How Do We Sleep? Part Two | the well-rested mother

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