Sleep — our need for it, our longing for it, our discontent.
When we’re young, we need sleep in order to recover from the school day and all its stresses. When we grow into adulthood, it’s the job and family that impose stress. When we’re old, as I am now, alas and alack, and retired, hooray, it would seem you can sleep as long as you like.
But that’s not my case. I’ve always been a nervous, and perhaps reluctant, sleeper. There’s so much going on — especially in the head. How can we just hit the pillow and close our eyes to it? Life whirls on, in the brain, pokes and prods us, stimulates, suggests something we might have done in the past but didn’t, something we might do in the future.
Of course, this kind of restlessness is pretty fruitless. We can’t change the past by tossing and turning, digging it up like a moldy old potato. We can’t control the future by dreaming of it as a glorious and confirming thing.
I envy those who hit the pillow and it’s lights out. Those who sleep easily, soundly, “the sleep of the just.” Maybe this old phrase, or moldy potato, suggests I am not just, or fair, or moral? Something is troubling me? Some vague sin? Some forgetfulness? Some thoughtlessness?
Or that I must keep watch, as my name Gregory suggests? (The Online Etymology dictionary glosses the name so: “, , ‘ ‘ [ ‘ ‘ ) Whether neurotically or morally or whatever, I must keep awake in the watches of the night!
Still, I could turn myself in as a sleep study subject. They’d put wires on my head and have me sleep in a dark room. I’d toss and turn, yank out the wires, scream. Help! help! Are you kidding me? killing me? It’s not worth the measly $75 you’re awarding! Take me back home, where I love to toss and turn in my own bed, keeping my wife awake half the night!
Of course, as the Shakespeare says, “our little life is rounded by a sleep,” or as Emily Dickinson puts it, about the longer sleep we fret and worry to the bone:
A long, long sleep, a famous sleep
That makes no show for dawn
By stretch of limb or stir of lid, —
An independent one.
Was ever idleness like this?
Within a hut of stone
To bask the centuries away
Nor once look up for noon?