As I get older, I find a full night’s sleep, the kind when I fall asleep at 10:00 and wake up at 6:00, elusive. Oh, I get to sleep just fine; I don’t usually stay asleep the whole night.
I typically wake up somewhere around midnight, and I am awake with only my thoughts to entertain me for three, four, five hours until it’s just about time to get up.
I certainly don’t want to become dependent on chemical sleeping aids. I tried taking melatonin, a natural sleep-inducer, but didn’t like it. My sleeping heart rate is somewhere in the high 30 beats per minute range, and melatonin depresses heart rate, which I thought might be playing with fire.
Plus, I have weird, vivid dreams when I take melatonin, which I don’t like. I would rather just enjoy the places my mind takes me most nights.
I thought I would let you take a little peek at how my brain works on these nights, to see how the little silver ball careens around the far reaches of my memory and lights up random items stored there like a pinball game.
Usually, I forget or only dimly remember my nightly thoughts when the sun rises. This night, however, I grabbed the stub of a pencil and scribbled some cryptic reminders.
What follows are three things I thought about one night when I couldn’t sleep, one sad, one profound, and one weird.
Once, several years ago, before we had grandchildren, my husband and I were planning a trip over Easter weekend. We may have been going to a race. I don’t remember anymore.
The day before we left, hoping to see some early migrants, I grabbed my binoculars and headed out the back door, looking for birds.
I crossed the bike path behind my house and climbed the slope next to the power cut. There, on top of a hill, far away from the road and mostly hidden from view, is a small Jewish cemetery.
I was skirting the cemetery when something unusual caught my eye. It was a freshly dug grave. The dirt over the grave, which was smoothed out to prepare for planting grass seed, looked like it was studded with little colorful bits of something. I stepped closer for a better look.
They were jelly beans.
The grave was for a seven-year-old girl, and someone had scattered jelly beans over the freshly turned soil.
I could imagine anguished parents or grandparents performing this heartbreaking ritual. It was one of the saddest sights I had ever seen.
I was stuck in this sad reverie for quite a while, then I tried to remember the destination of the trip we had been anticipating.
I could remember packing only a carry-on bag. I could remember traveling to the airport in Philadelphia. I could remember parking the car and going through security, but the destination of the trip remained lost in the dark reaches of my brain.
Then my thoughts got sidetracked by another Philadelphia Airport memory.
We had just returned from several weeks in Spain and were walking through the Philadelphia airport. I was people-watching, as I usually do, when all at once it struck me, the diversity.
While we were walking across Northern Spain and later, in Barcelona, the Spanish people were relatively homogeneous.
Sure, there were variations in hair, eye, and skin color, and even in language and culture, but nothing like what I saw in the Philadelphia airport.
At the airport, I saw Hassidic Jews and people wearing hijabs and saris and turbans. I saw a Black family draped with Disney paraphernalia and a white family with four little girls dragging princess backpacks. I saw an Asian couple wearing I-heart-NY T-shirts and a Native American man wearing cowboy boots.
It reminded me of God’s table.
Here we are, all of us, the diverse, the imperfect, the stragglers. The short-tempered, the worn-out, the nail-biters, the tourists, the ones who blurt out the wrong words at the wrong time, the people who leave soggy towels on the bathroom floor, the smart alecks, the whiners, all of us claiming our seats. We come, dragging our princess backpacks loaded with the baggage we have accumulated through living all these years, wearing our Mickey Mouse ears, filled with hope.
We don’t love God with our whole hearts, we covet our neighbor’s cute slouchy boots, and we cheat at solitaire, but we are still welcome.
We all have a place at the table.
That’s what I saw when I looked around the Philadelphia Airport.
Thinking of the Philly Airport made me think of the Elton John song “Philadelphia Freedom”.
I don’t know what you think of Elton John, but this is a strange song. Here are some of the lyrics:
“Till the whippoorwill of freedom zapped me
Right between the eyes”
OK, that’s just weird.
A whippoorwill is a bird. I have never heard of a “whippoorwill of freedom “. Maybe an eagle of freedom, but not a whippoorwill.
And how would the “whippoorwill of freedom” zap you right between the eyes?
I am picturing a muscular, camouflage-wearing, headbanded, laser-toting bird with his sights aimed squarely at the center of my forehead.
I’m not sure that’s the image Elton John had in mind when he wrote the song.
So now you have a little peek into how my brain works, free association, and all. Three memories that were struck by the little silver ball and briefly illuminated during my sleepless hours this week.
Maybe you can understand why I prefer the entertainment my own mind provides, rather than some graphic, melatonin-inspired dreams.
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