It’s Day 35 of Covid-19 lockdown for me and while usually I would make no attempt to timestamp these types of offerings to the universe; I began to notice a few weeks ago that more and more of my friends around the world were beginning to report of sleeplessness. Once reliable patterns of rest and slumber and recovery becoming unreliable in the face of a strange new unknown threat. A symptom for the symptomless, but nonetheless impacted victims of Covid-19.
So amongst the liturgies I have written for this Covid -19 time, I wrote a liturgy for sleeplessness. I wrote it first on hearing the sigh of a dear friend sleepless in the dark skies of New York. I read it to myself watching the dawn rise after another sleepless night. It does not promise to cure your insomnia, but I hope it will comfort you and keep you company in the small dark hours.
This is my gift to you. May you find rest.
A Liturgy for Sleeplessness
At the counting of the hours
and as the ‘un’s’ collect before my eyes
The undone, unsaid and unfinished things in my body
The work of my hands
The unsolved puzzles of my day
May there be rest in knowing there is always something undone that we might sleep and rise tomorrow
The unfelt, unheard and unspoken things that haunt
Swirling in the soft, shadowy edge of the mind
Not enough to wake us but enough to jostle us from deepest slumber
Let my slumber be the safe and soft space for all that is un-
To become part of tomorrow, safe for tonight without needing my concern, my worry, my energy.
For today, I have given all portions and allotments that belonged to it.
But for the catchment of hours left in the night before dawn, grant me abundant mercy as I wander long hours in the small darkness, awake or dreaming.
Give me strength for the dawn. Satisfy even the curiosity of the deep night I find myself aware of.
May the alchemy of body and mind, mystery of eyes responding to light and noise relent — to the tonic of sleep; the easy weighted fall of eyelids, the slowing rhythm of breath.
I lay down into the rhythm of the hours and surrender to them, even the most unwilling parts of me. Grant me mercy in slumber and keep me there.
I offer my evening prayer to the morning and ask for the unknown knitting together of fibres, for entering the healing of deep rest.
For the peace and end of the day, done and undone, and for sleep.
When I grow up, I’d like to be more fun. I think I take myself too seriously most of the time. I’ve spent so much of my life focused on growing up that I’m not sure what grown up is meant to look like. I’d really like to be good at playing.
I’d like to be the life of the party and live in the house that everyone is always drawn to for game night and holidays. I’d like to be kind and wise and help people feel at home, at peace, comfortable. To help them find rest when bodies and minds and weary. When I grow up, I’d like to be able to be generous whenever I feel like it, with my money, time and resources. I’d like to be certain I’m living in a good direction, that my actions are pointing to a hopeful kind of destination.
But mostly, when I think about the future and growing up, I think about what it would be like to not carry all the responsibility. I grew up in the opposite direction and now I’m trying to grow down.
I learned way too young that eventually we are all responsible for ourselves in every sense – from self-love to finance to decision-making. In every sense, once you grow up the kind of human you are is determined largely by your own response to whatever circumstance you find yourself in. I started living in that enormous responsibility when I was very young. Despite the reality that I’m still prone to irresponsibility from time to time. But I live into my irresponsibility without a failsafe, a backstop, a safety net.
Don’t get me wrong – I didn’t grow up entirely and it wasn’t a terrible thing to take responsibility for myself from such a young age. It took me a while to work out things like finances and how to love myself. But what I find myself trying to grow down into is how to be slightly less independent in that responsibility.
At the end of the day, I often find myself incapacitated for decision-making because I’m exhausted by all the decisions I make each day. Decisions for clients, decisions for myself. What to eat, wear, spend money on. I’m still procrastinating on booking a flight next week because I haven’t decided in which direction to head. Because every single decision is up to me.
That’s just a touch too much independence for my liking. I think we’re better when we are always learning to compromise for the sake of someone else. It’s also lonely to be making all these decisions all the time. But I’ve not known any other way of being since I was 8 years old. I don’t ever remember a time that I wasn’t worried about managing other people’s expectations or demands of me.
I’d like a second run at being a kid when I grow up. A chance to trust others to take care of me for a while, to give in to tantrums and whims. To play freely without a shadow of tomorrow’s decisions weighing on me.
I’m scared of dying without being finished but mostly I’m scared of missing the point. Of missing the opportunity that was destined for me, even despite the fact I don’t think the world works quite that way. But fear is irrational until we figure out how to disarm it.
It’s part of my personality type, this ongoing wrestling with the possibility of what is missing that prevents me from finding deepest satisfaction with what is. Although most of the time I’m healthier than that, the risk is always there. It’s a temptation to slip back into an old way of thinking about my life that is no longer true. It’s simply not compatible with the life I have.
I used to think I was afraid of being alone but in reality, I’m no more or less alone than most other people. I just thought I was afraid of being alone because everybody else seemed to be. Now I think they just didn’t realise how alone they already were. We’re all alone, just us inside our heads. Some of us do a better job than others of working out way out and into conversation, but for the most part, we live alone inside our heads.
We might live into a family unit, but each of us sees life entirely differently, even when we share experiences we do not share the exact same lens. No pair of siblings have the same parents, each person experiences something different of mother’s or father’s expression and identity in their interactions. For most of us, what we think we’re afraid of is already happening to us in some form. I think it’s helpful, when you know what you’re most afraid of, to be able to identify where it is already happening in some way or form.
I’m afraid of missing the point because I know I’m already wrestling with what I might be missing out on with the sacrifices and choices I have recently made. I’m already living into a reality where missing out is a possibility. But naming anything disempowers it. I’m afraid of missing on something wonderful because I’m distracted by something ordinary. Yet there were no markers to help me navigate towards wonderful.
For me, missing the point would look like getting to the end and feeling like I was still a million little projects strung together. I want my story to have a narrative arc that makes sense – an integrated, beautiful life. A life that breathes deeply for the last half of life. I’ve made too many friends who are forgetting to breathe they are so busy chasing something that I might also be missing out on.
The bravest thing I do is choosing to be brave and breathe and let what is uncomfortable take it’s time.I don’t want to feel like I’ve missed out on something but fear can paralyse me in place so I miss out anyway. So if I am to believe the Stoics, the way through my discomfort is to follow the discomfort. Embracing experiences regardless of agreed and acceptable amendments. So here I am, terrified of missing out on something but choosing a course inevitably bound for disaster anyway. Because we have to keep trying, even if we miss the point the first time.
What’s the difference between begging and praying? I was once taught that we pray so that our desires might align with God’s plans; in other words, prayer is a long slow submission. I don’t beg people, I mostly have begged God but usually with resignation. By the time I get to begging, it seems to me I have already given up on an alternate.
I don’t beg much in person. I think I’m too proud to ever let me guard down enough for anyone to see me that vulnerable, to see me in that much ‘want’. The substitute for begging is complicit silence. However I am no longer convinced that silence can be strong.
I don’t want to beg because begging seems already resigned to a negative outcome. I don’t want to beg because I’m too proud. I don’t want to beg because it feels demeaning to everyone. Unless it’s me begging me. That I can do because I don’t mind my own vulnerability and authenticity.
I’m begging me to stay true to the course and not give up. Honestly, that’s what I’m begging. I’m resigned to the inevitability that I will give up. I will give up on certain desires and certain plans because all seems lost and futile and pointless. I’m begging me to see things in reverse. I’m begging myself to change my perspective on begging, just so I’m prepared to give myself another chance.
I’m begging for endurance through the early mornings and the long, late night phone calls that come with the career choices I’ve made. I’m begging for strength in the middle of loneliness, when doing the right thing feels worse that doing the wrong thing. I don’t want to judge but I’m judging away – I don’t want to fail where others have failed or become another ‘coulda been, shoulda been’ story. I’m begging myself to break the mood and the pattern woven into my code – I want to take the path untrodden and make my own way through the forest but it sure as heck gets dark out here sometimes.
I want to believe that I’ll make it through – that I won’t succumb to the fate that haunts me. Sometimes I do think about what I’ve come through so far and how it hasn’t happened yet – the day I can’t quite climb over the shadows, but I haven’t given up yet. Not quitting requires more energy than anything else in my life. But what would I be if I just gave up?
It wouldn’t be one of those peaceful, effort relaxations into a calmer pace of life. It would be a slamming, screeching and anxious race to the stop sign. So I beg myself not to quit and I’m begging you not to let me either. Don’t let me give up on myself or the dream. I’m begging you not to let me go too long without sunshine or love or playfulness. Don’t let me get too close to the cliffs or to the rocks – on the day I can’t go any further, don’t let me give up.
I grew up on the sound of trains, which is probably why I like riding them so much. The rumble forward and the side to side roll of the carriages jostling along has always been comforting to me. Like a carriage of one hundred conversations I guess, that rumble always seemed like the train was talking in it’s own voice.
I take the train from Union Station in Los Angeles to San Diego and watch the Pacific swell and crest through the windows, that oceanic bridge between home and away. I also take the train from outside my apartment in New Zealand to downtown. I walk amongst hordes of office workers, school children and all manner of people on trains.
When you think of public transportation, it’s too easy to think just of the commute to work. But really, public transportation is any way of getting somewhere that you don’t get complete control of the journey or your fellow passengers.
I once took a train for four days across the Australian desert from east to west. That time I was lucky – my fellow travellers were a group of beautiful humans that I still pay attention to today. I took a train to the Lake District earlier this year and made conversations with a stranger but mostly on trains, I just pay attention and observe.
Trains used to be great observation stations of human culture and interaction. They are less about human interaction than they used to be. It used to be that you could see what books someone was reading or the newspaper and share a knowing glance, even a passing smile. Sometimes there was even chance to smile and maybe flirt a little, with the same people you see every day.
Now, you step onto the train to rows of bowed heads and headphones designed to drown out noise and flood the listener with some other distraction. Trains are quiet places now, because hardly anyone talks back.
I watched a heavily pregnant woman (yes, I was actually thinking through how I would help deliver a baby if it came before we left the train) stand in the stifling humid London heatwave while a carriage full of people ignored her. We’ve become so good at ignoring each other. I guess I used to think of public transportation as a shared journey, a shared experience. But now I think humanity is becoming far too good at being alone together.
We miss all the small chances for connection and human engagement throughout our day – we’ve forgotten the art of small talk because no one has time for it anymore. We just learn to be alone in the midst of being together, refusing to engage in shared experiences.
Public transportation makes me lonely, because I already spend too much time in my own thoughts. I sit on that train and rumble towards the next stop; watching the dozen or so people in my carriage with their heads bent. I wouldn’t recognise them on the street because I only see the top of their heads or maybe the toe of a shoe. And I watch people travelling together but entirely alone.