Sleep, as the Saying Goes

Among my grandmother’s extensive storehouse of knowledge was a veritable stock of epigrammatic “sayings” that she could access at will for the edification of dumb little children who happened to be visiting her.  These must have had an effect on my father when he was growing up, as he would occasionally resort to one of these bon mots in moments of frustration.

One of my favorites was “assume a virtue if you have it not,” which usually meant that Dad was about ready to start cussing.  I think the modern equivalent would be something like “fake it til you make it.”  It always sounded to me like an instruction to be what someone else wants you to be rather than who you really are.

Another oft-used chestnut was “sleep, it is a blessèd thing, beloved from shore to shore,” which was convenient when it was bedtime for children who had other plans.  Many years went by before I learned that this little nugget is a misquotation from Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.”

Sleep sure is a funny thing though, isn’t it?  There are insomniacs who toss and turn and bemoan the fact that they stay up all night,  while borderline narcoleptics, like my father and myself, can be holding a conversation in which the next word is a snore.

Children, as we know, require a lot of sleep.  And yet, that is the last thing that most of them want to do.  Not only is sleep boring when there are so many fun and exciting things to do and explore, but kids intuit that they are missing out on the best times of all by going to bed.

We are told that adults, on the other hand, require much less sleep.  Then why is it that all we ever want to do is get just a little bit more shuteye?

Somehow, the whole thing seems more than a little bit backwards, which brings me to another of my grandmother’s sayings that I have mentioned in this space on other occasions:

As a rule, a man’s a fool
When it’s hot, he would be cool
When it’s cool, he would be hot
Always wanting what is not.

I think what my grandmother meant was that we always think the grass is greener on the other side of the fence.  Or maybe she meant that we just like to be contrary.

When it comes to sleep, however, it is an inescapable fact that we wish we could return to childhood nights of ten hours of uninterrupted sleep.  For many of us, the very thought is nothing short of bliss.

Does this mean that, as kids, we want more out of life, and that as adults, we’ve had enough and are willing to settle for less out of life?  At some level, I suspect that sleep is an escape not only from the daily grind, but also from all our cares and worries.

As I work on my memoir, I find myself summoning up memories of fleeting moments that I never would have expected to remember.  For example, I recently recalled a seemingly random moment from a Monday in my tenth grade French class, now decades ago.  In an attempt to get our class to practice its skills in conversational French, Mrs. Sawyer (among the finest teachers of any kind whom I have ever encountered) asked us to describe what we did over the weekend.  Noting a lack of volunteers, she called on a boy in the back of the classroom, who described how he slept all weekend.  “You spent the whole weekend being unconscious?!” exclaimed the disbelieving teacher.

And yet, it seems as if we relish our unconsciousness time.  Another high school memory of mine involves the time I chose golf as one of my phys ed electives.  I liked the idea of it because it didn’t seem particularly strenuous, I didn’t have to change out of my “street clothes,” and, hey, I already knew how to play mini-golf, so how different could it be?  I ended up having a rough go of it, however, as I never could seem to hit the ball when I tried to adopt the grip and stance I was taught.  When I simply stood back and walloped the thing, however, I was able to drive it clear across the field.

When I told my mother about my phys ed elective choice, she approved.  “Golf is a life sport,” she informed me.  I guess that means that old guys still play golf long after their days of playing football and baseball are over.  In the interim forty years, however, I have yet to step onto a golf course.

Perhaps sleeping is a life sport, too.  If, like my weekend sleeper classmate, you get good at it at a young age, you can continue to enjoy the activity as long as you live.  And even afterward, perhaps.  I have it on good authority that sleeping is the only hobby in which one can depend on participating even after we shuffle off this mortal coil and spend our days and nights in sweet slumber deep within the welcoming arms of Mother Earth.

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