The text from my daughter-in-law Lauren left me amazed: "My little man slept 10 hours — I had to wake him up." How is it possible that this 4-month-old baby is the son of our firstborn, Greg, the child who woke me up every night until he was at least 2 years old? Is there such a thing as reverse karma? Not fair!
In contrast, our other new grandbaby, the sweet Emma Belle, has not mastered the art of sleeping at night, thus keeping her mom or dad on call as the hours of the night slip by. I vaguely remember living in the fog of sleep deprivation in my early months of motherhood as well, but I also cherished those hours spent in the rocking chair, as we were seemingly the only two humans awake in the silent world around us.
Now, as those early childhood days are seen only from my rear-view mirror, I often sleep through the night, the way humans are created to do, waking rested and refreshed. However, there are other nights when my sleep is interrupted, and I watch the hands on the clock make their way around the dial. Usually, I’ll give myself a limited amount of time to fall back to sleep, but once that mark has been reached, I’ll get up and read or check social media, as television in the middle of the night is even worse than mid-afternoon.
Sometimes, I’m awakened from an unsettling dream, or with the need to "use the facilities," and easily slip back into sleep. Other nights, I’ll toss and turn, focusing on my to-do list for the next day, outlining my next novel, and yes, even composing a T-G column or two at 3 a.m. However, unless I find a way to jot some words down, the ideas that seemed so brilliant in the middle of the night are either AWOL by morning, or lose their shine in the light of day.
For people of faith, the night hours can become a time for watchfulness and prayer. The Psalmist understood: "My eyes are awake before the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promise" (Psalm 119). Night can also be a time of soul-searching. As recorded in the book of Genesis, Jacob wrestled with God through the night until daybreak came. Perhaps Mosie Lister, a gospel songwriter, was remembering that account when he asked a question: "How long has it been … since you stayed on your knees ‘till the light shone through?"
At other times, we are kept awake by the burdens we carry for family and friends. Our child is far from home. An elderly parent is near death. A cousin is suicidal. Our neighbor’s husband is in prison. Our spouse is unfaithful. A baby is coming too soon. Our sibling is deployed. We pray and we weep, and when we awaken in the morning, our pillow is soaked by the tears we shed in the night.
Yet there are also times when we are kept awake by the suffering of people we don’t know. As the horrors of the Epstein case unfold, my heart aches for vulnerable girls, for women who aren’t believed, for those who will carry the secret of their abuse to their graves.
For author Francine Prose, what’s happening at the border keeps her awake. She writes: "I’ve been surprised, and not especially pleased, by my own ability to absorb each new outrage, each new shock — and move one. But not this one. Perhaps because I’ve spent so much of my adult life around children, perhaps because I have children and now grandchildren of my own, the reports and images of these devastated families have been keeping me awake at night and haunting my daylight hours. And I believe that this should be keeping all of us awake."
Stephanie Marsh, who played ADA Alexandra Cabot in "Law and Order SVU," shares her perspective: "Thinking about the heartbreaking number of young children around the world who think they are unwanted and are uncared for can easily keep you awake at night."
What about you? What keeps you up at night?
— JoAnn Shade, author of "Only in Ashland: Reflections of a Smitten Immigrant," can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.