Oniontown Pastoral: Wakefulness at Twilight
At first the term “sleep hygiene” confused me. Who relates laying your head down at night and hauling it upright in the morning with cleanliness, after all? But when scientists delve into an issue, language takes strange turns. Bottom line, sleep hygiene refers to personal habits and whether they’re conducive to getting sufficient rest to keep a body and mind going. That’s my understanding, anyway.
For nine years (and over 300 posts) my blog, A Napper’s Companion, has been somnambulating along with a modest following. The topics are all over the place, but the project was inspired by my love for what Spaniards call “a siesta.” Winston Churchill, who actually put on silk pajamas at the appointed hour, endured the jowl shaking experience of World War II in part with the help of what he labeled “blessed oblivion.” Edgar Allan Poe thundered over the whole enterprise. “Sleep: Those little slices of death. How I loathe them.”
I bet the 19th century’s famous gray cloud never had an infected finger rain on his sleep hygiene—Poe’s myriad psychological storms conceded.
In brief: A few weeks ago a cyst on my right ring finger burst, and I wound up in an emergency room two days later to make sure I didn’t succumb to sepsis. After seven hours in a holding tank alongside folks with problems that ranked mine, kind nurses administered five or six blasts of intravenous antibiotics. An orthopedic doctor excavated the troublesome site—I’ll skip the details—and in 26 hours I approached my very own bed with a weary step.
Glad as I was to be home, an unexpected routine took hold. In spite of pain medication dutifully taken and healing proceeding apace, I’ve been stirring somewhere around 2:00 a.m. and communing with my aching digit until around 5:00. So what to do with these wakeful hours? How should I regard them?
My sleep expertise comes from experience, not education. I’m entitled to list nine letters after my name, but none of them qualifies me to give advice. Still, I can’t think of anything less useful than turning this way and that in the darkness, fighting anger at the clock’s paralyzed minute hand and resurrecting an ancient grudge or two.
As long as I’m awake, I’ll not waste whatever gifts the hours care to bestow. Awareness and the senses are medicinal. They keep me from thinking, “Here I am, up with this stupid finger.”
I don’t forget, not for a moment, that the little injury is attached to a body drawn close to Kathy, the woman I’ve loved for 2/3 of my life. We met in high school choir. Now we have a daughter and son who have grown beyond their almost-deadly youth into good sorts, worthy of pride. We’ve upsized the marriage mattress to a king so that our three grandsons can sleep over in the Coleman’s version of Grandma’s feather bed. When they do, the sleep hygiene is never better.
No matter the weather, outside air is welcome. It’s almost worth insomnia to watch the sheer white curtain rise and fall in the breeze and survey the family Grandma Kathy and Pop preside over. Our joy is consuming.
I also listen a lot. Most wives and husbands kvetch about snoring, and I get that. Kathy has lost more than a few hours of REMs thanks to my glottis vibrato. I’m weird, though. I want to hear my wife snore. There are reasons.
Humor is one. The sounds that issue forth from her mouth are marvels. I mean, if snoring were singing, Kathy would produce platinum albums in country, opera, easy listening, heavy metal, jazz and rap. She is the crossover wood-sawing queen.
Reality is another. My beloved has rheumatoid arthritis and works as an oncology nurse—an energy sapping condition combined with an exacting job. In ways I won’t go into here, I’m the beneficiary of much of her fatigue and effort. If Kathy is snoring, it means she is sleeping. I give thanks. Besides, she’s not keeping me up.
Then there’s rain, when it chances to fall between 2:00 and 5:00. It clicks against the glass, spills over the gutter, snaps against the soil where onions grow, and reminds me: My family has shelter, food and so much clothing that we forget what all hides in the back of the closet.
Whatever the weather, I know it’s coming up on 5:00 when birdsong begins. A new day is in preparation. I might give Kathy’s shoulder, cool from the open window, a kiss of gratitude. Then sleep returns for an hour or two—call it an oddly placed nap.
Wakefulness at twilight? Okay, sleep would be preferable, but I couldn’t care less. Honest.