In Praise of Napping

In Praise of Napping

I should say in advance that if you turn your nose up at napping, you take issue with Eleanor Roosevelt, JFK and Jackie, and Ronald Reagan. You also question geniuses like Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein and Salvador Dali.

Eleanor Roosevelt (Credit: Wikmedia Commons)

With such an illustrious list of practitioners, you’d think that what the Spanish call a “siesta” would be beyond reproach. Not so. Back in 2011, when fatigue in airport control towers caused a series of near misses, Federal Aviation Administration chief Ray LaHood said, “We’re not going to pay controllers to nap.” Even when presented with proof that sleep breaks would be beneficial, the chief remained humbug on the idea.

For LaHood and millions of Americans, the phrase “caught napping” conveys what we really think. The first word all but accuses the second of laziness, lack of ambition, even delinquency.

Home economics guru Martha Stewart damned naps with faint praise when she said, “I catnap now and then, but I think while I nap, so it’s not a waste of time.”

As an armchair expert and connoisseur, I can assure Stewart and all novices of the simple arithmetic. Reclining + Cogitating = Insomnia. And Insomnia ≠ Napping (feline or otherwise).

Margaret Thatcher, who got “zizz” from her personal assistant, Cynthia “Crawfie” Crawford. (Credit: Wikipedia)

I have too much empirical evidence on my side to be swayed by detractors. Still, why does lying down on the couch in St. John’s pastor’s study for what Margaret Thatcher called a “zizz” embarrass me a little? The short blasts of rest that kept Thatcher sharp during the Falkland Islands War should embolden me.

As should her legendary predecessor, Winston Churchill, who actually put on pajamas and slid between the covers for at least an hour, usually longer. He claimed the rest helped him squeeze 1.5 workdays into 1.

His rationale was almost poetic: “Nature had not intended mankind to work from 8 in the morning until midnight without the refreshment of blessed oblivion which, even if it only lasts 20 minutes, is sufficient to renew all the vital forces.”

Winston Churchill in 1941: imagine his scowl without a nap. (Credit: Wikipedia)

He was arguably the world leader most responsible for defeating Hitler. In retirement, between midday oblivion and glasses of Johnny Walker Red with a splash of water, Churchill wrote a 1,600,000-word history of World War II that earned him the 1953 Nobel Prize in Literature.

If you’ll admit that I’ve built a solid case thus far, I’ll return the favor with my own concession. Some recent studies have indicated a connection between long naps and premature death as well as the eventual onset of diabetes and heart disease. If you want to follow up on these leads, be my guest. I can’t help but wonder if some folks whose siestas drag on until dusk are dealing with major, health damaging stressors.

If you don’t think stress can plunge you into full-drooling REM sleep every afternoon, let me bend your ear. I first acquired my taste for naps thirty years ago when a series of challenges pointed out my limitations in every theater of life.

When some situations demanded emotional chops, I had a glass jaw. When others called for firmness and discernment, I employed what one Buddhist teacher calls “idiot compassion.” As a young father, for example, I mistook permissiveness for easy-going wisdom.

Yogi Berra in 2009. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

In short, for a good thirty years I lay my beleaguered self down, as did baseball great Yogi Berra, who took “a two hour nap from 1:00 to 4:00.”

Thankfully, realities that used to sap my spirit have mostly gone on hiatus, and looking a full day in the eye no longer requires hiding my head under the covers halfway through.

Rest at midday has become a sweet blessing. A few weeks back I had a late lunch at daughter Elena’s house. Grandsons Cole and Killian were deep in their usual dramas of make believe, so it was a surprise when the former said he would join me for a nap.

One of my favorite nappers, Cole, three years ago

We sprawled on his single bed, my eyes closed and his fixed on a Magic School Bus cartoon. Occasionally I watched his features in profile, his delicate eyelashes and waves of red hair.

After fifteen minutes, he said, “I’m getting up, Pop,” and headed to the living room.

Ms. Frizzle and her students talked on the bus. My loved ones laughed and chattered down the hall. I wasn’t tired at all, but kept still in gratitude for an old habit begun out of desperation and aged into surprising joy.

And I saw that it was good.

Killian, napper in training

Advertisements

First Report from the Ark: Taking the TURMOIL ME! Sign Off My Back

Day One

IMG_0778

Hanging behind the Ark couch.

First light, Monday, June 17, 2013 at Camp Lutherlyn in Prospect, Pennsylvania. I’m here with four other Lutheran pastors to teach 7th through 9th graders the catechism, go to campfires, and conduct a postmortem of each day back here in the Ark, a comfortable two-bedroom, two-bathroom cabin that’s relentlessly arky. Valances, rug, wall-hangings, placemats, cookie jar, and trinkets are all about pairs of animals, Noah, rainbows, and the big boat. Thankfully, the toilet paper isn’t a spool of two-by-two giraffes and gazelles.

IMG_0779

An Arky valance.

IMG_0772Last night, our conversation was leavened with Maywine, “Light Wine flavored [sic] with Woodruff.” Imagine a Riesling, minus the tang, plus an undertow of a musty mystery herb. The maker is Leonard Kreusch, who tells us that Maywine is “a rite of spring, appearing in conjunction with the bloom of Sweet Woodruff in early May. Traditionally, produced with this herb, which was dried and steeped in the wine overnight.” This wine snob is reluctant to say so, but I enjoyed a couple splashes, though the experience was like trying to recall the name of an old high school classmate—the name (or flavor) was familiar, but I couldn’t identify it.

IMG_0780

Noah, looking like a bald Santa, says, “Have a cookie.”

After a full-on-drool siesta yesterday afternoon (no teaching; just show up and go to campfire) and a decent night’s sleep, I’m trying not to stare at Noah on the cookie jar lid and hoping to settle into a new life. For ten years I’ve army crawled so often through my days that now I have to learn how to walk upright and quit anticipating the next ambush. Both daughter Elena and son Micah worked through unnerving, occasionally life-threatening problems, some of which I’ve mentioned in previous posts. We’re not out of the woods yet, as the saying goes, but it’s time to stop functioning as if I have a TURMOIL ME! sign taped to my back. Just as a person torched in romance needs to learn to love again, I have to figure out how to trust life again.

Day Two

4:44 p.m., Tuesday, June 18, 2013, in Lyndora, Pennsylvania’s Panera Bread. Tired as I was at 2:30 this afternoon, I couldn’t fall asleep. My bedroom in the Ark was quiet, my old K-Mart box fan had cool air moving, and the courtesy pillow was perfect. The trouble: a dull ache behind my right ear nagged just enough to keep my awareness above sleep’s surface. I may have gone under for ten minutes—not sure.

IMG_0782

Mac-Snot-Book Air

After a stop for pinot noir and a bottle of ibuprofen, I’ve landed at Panera, only because there’s no Starbucks nearby. My Mac-Snot-Book Air, which I normally love, also refuses to let me hook up with the camp’s Wi-Fi. Mac-Snot-Book grabs the signal + I’ve got the password = 0. So here I am, drinking a wimpishly acceptable iced decaf latte and fighting off disappointment that at the moment what I have to say about napping and sanity seems to be stuck in orbit around my own neurotic navel.

I want to write about how Swainson’s thrush naps in flight and how decision fatigue makes fools of us all. Dozens of newsworthy nappers—other than Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher, whom I’ve already profiled—wait for me to tell their stories. I don’t intend to whine indefinitely, but siesta news of interest will have to wait until I can wiggle outside of myself. May it be soon.

In short, my twitchiness is as strong as ever. Yesterday I missed a phone call from Micah, followed by this text message: “Please call when u get this.” I tried to return the call, but no answer. During the twenty minutes I sat in prayer, the familiar anxiety buzzed in my chest. Did something go wrong at work? Did he get bad news about the blood tests he had done recently? My answer arrived with a text message beep. It was a “Microsoft Support Code,” which meant that Micah was having trouble getting his X-Box to cooperate with our television. I forwarded him the number, which prompted this response: “Thanx sry just xbox live bullshit again.” I asked him about his doctor’s appointment: “Everything ok?” I got back this: “Yupp.” Worrying over nothing gets tiring, hence my compulsive napping.

I told my friend Kim the story as we sat on a bench watching kids play Tip Frisbee (if you tip the Frisbee and a teammate catches it, your team gets a point). She responded with four letters: “PTSD.”

“Really? You think I could have that?” I said, implying I hadn’t thought the same thing myself many times.

“Oh, yeah, absolutely.”

Omaha_Beach_wounded_soldiers,_1944-06-06

Omaha Beach wounded soldiers. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

But I don’t feel entitled. People who get their knees blown off in Afghanistan or are beaten by their husbands earn their post-traumatic stress disorder, not me. Still, I suppose you don’t get to choose what disorders take up residence in your navel. I figured once my kids’ lives calmed down, I’d float along with a light heart. Not that I’m complaining. I much prefer where the Coleman family is now compared to where it was a year ago. I just hadn’t thought jangled nerves would be part of the healing process.

IMG_0774

View from the worrier’s swing on the Ark’s porch.

Stay tuned for another report or two from the Ark in the days ahead.