from “Lullaby” by W.H. Auden
Beauty, midnight, vision dies:
Let the winds of dawn that blow
Softly round your dreaming head
Such a day of sweetness show
Eye and knocking heart may bless,
Find the mortal world enough;
Noons of dryness see you fed
By the involuntary powers,
Nights of insult let you pass
Watched by every human love.
It is 5:30 am. I have been awake for two hours. My sleep has been strange these last few days, but it has been nourishing and good.
If I have learned anything about grief, it is this: Grief is exhausting. Being around a lot of grief is exhausting. Any kind of significant loss is exhausting.
Yet there is so little room in most of our lives for recovery from exhaustion. For just letting it all go and sleeping as much as we need to sleep. Now grief pushes this envelope “for” us; it makes it very difficult not to sleep more, not to just veg out in front of comforting, well-known television, not to cancel social engagements.
But while grief shows us what we need in no uncertain terms, there is something deeper going on. And this deeper something is that we are all tired nearly all the time, grieving or not. Most of us don’t get enough sleep, most of us don’t have really nurturing downtime, and too many of us (and oh how so much I include myself here) behave as though the meaning of our live is found in our “productivity.”
I cannot say what the meaning of your life is. Only your Deepest, Wisest Self can answer that for you. But I know for sure that “productivity” is not the meaning of my life. Alignment with the Divine Spirit of the Universe. Authenticity. Integrity. Compassion. Wisdom. Service.
Oh! There’s something sneaking in there – service. Service is a tricky one. Yes, service to Earth and Her inhabitants is valuable, good, even meaning-making. A heart full of love overflows into service, yes. It is certainly true that we love others, and that we must love others to be whole people. Certainly, we must love others, but not only others. We must love ourselves, though not only ourselves. We need the balance.
It’s hard to put “loving myself” on the list of things that contribute to the meaning of my life.
And yet it is no less important than loving others. Indeed, loving self and loving others are in a dynamic relationship. It’s not that you have to have one all wrapped up and perfect before you can do the other. It is, rather, recognizing—in both cases, self and other—that we are expressions of the Spirit of the Universe. We are perfect expressions of humanity, we have dignity and worth, and we deserve love.
That said, sometimes we make it harder for others to perceive the glory in us, the human perfection, the God-ly-ness. Sometimes we are hurtful. Sometimes our own histories of abuse, shaming, addiction, and other dysfunction come out in damaging ways for which we are responsible.
Nonetheless, we are worthy of our own love. We are worthy of love and we are worthy of the rest, the rejuvenation, the restoration that self-love can offer us.
As I have been grieving, I have been grateful for the space and time to offer myself the loving care of sleep. For me, the exhaustion of grieving is only allayed by good sleep.
I think of my first spiritual director, Sister Paula Drass, and the directed silent retreats I did with her. At our first meeting, she’d say, “Okay, now go to bed.” And she’d send me back to bed if she thought I wasn’t finished resting! Before reading, before prayer, before time with trees and water (also rejuvenating!)…before all of this, she encouraged deep, extended sleep.
I think of my sleep-deprived parent friends. I think of the sacrifice parents make over and over again to help their children sleep. I think of my chaplain and medical-personnel friends who are on call this very night/morning and who have been awake much of the night. I think of the nights I have spent in vigil, looking at the stars from the center of the Labyrinth on a hilltop in southern Pennsylvania.
When we give our sleep away, we are making a significant sacrifice. May it be a gift. May it be in the service of something beautiful. And may we know that it is a gift we are giving, a sacrifice we are making.
And more often than not, may we give that gift of sleep to ourselves. May we have the blessing of seeking it, finding it, and receiving it. May we learn how to sleep, how to rest, how to be calm, how to find peace.