Feigning Sleep

Photo by Jean Reiss Berlfein

On long drives, in the days before seat belts, my mom would put the seats down in the back of the station wagon, lay the suitcases out flat, cover them with blankets and pillows, and the four of us kids, lulled by the absolute darkness and motion of the car, would sleep curled up like puppies.

When we got home, my dad would one by one carry us into the house, arms dangling, hair tussled, mouths hanging slack open, and tuck us into our beds. Sometimes I would feign sleep to be held like that, heavy with abandon in my dad’s arms, my small body shielded from the big world.

Days now, I wish for my youthful illusion that all’s right with the world. I wish for someone or something bigger and stronger to run interference against pain, suffering, chaos and uncertainty. I wish for a long, deep breath that doesn’t catch in my throat.

But it is not to be. My mother and father are gone. I am too old for such childish flights. And the world is too big (and too small) for comfort. I want desperately to feign sleep, to be carried arms hanging loose to my warm bed.

But I am awake. I cannot unsee what I have seen. Droughts leading to crop failures, forcing hungry families to the cities, making refugees out of honest farmers, prompting countries to lock their borders, resulting in chaos, fear and anger.

I find myself raw. Tender. My heart ragged. Clenching my jaw to hold back the flood of tears. In this moment hope eludes me. I find myself flailing my arms in search of solace, turning to poets, theologians, and spiritual teachers.

Even so, there is something in this raw place, that while it doesn’t calm me, it moves me. It is an uncommon recognition of our shared vulnerability. And if we intertwine our arms we just might be able to come together and ferry ourselves through darkness.

13 comments on “Feigning Sleep

  1. Davia, in my talks about environmental stewardship, I ask the audience to each stand on one foot as long as they can. Only youth can do it very long. However, when we put out our arms to the shoulders next to us, we can stand for a very long time. So like your essay.

    • Mary, I love that image! I didn’t realize till I reread my piece how many references I made to arms hanging and dangling and flailing and holding! Perspective makes all the difference.

  2. Another beautiful essay. Thank you for kindling my own memories of late night summer trips in our old Ford to visit grandparents…the magic of laying cuddled cozily in the back seat and looking up through the tiny rear window at the immense star-filled heavens.

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