| LifeTakes |

The Gift of Sleep   

            That’s what they told me. That just to lie still, to close your eyes and feign, that alone can refresh you

Downstairs the detritus of the meal is still half on the table; somewhere below kids play. Their aunt is here, she’ll take care of them, someone will. I’m so, so tired. I’m nodding off, giving in to exhaustion, when I remember: Don’t sleep on Rosh Hashanah afternoon, men ken farshlufen dee mazel.

I start and sit up in bed, but crumple back down. Does it even apply to me? Here? Now? I’m a young mom, and I’m sapped from the day. I don’t — can’t — push myself the way I used to. I keep halachah, I do what I need to do, and inyanim are nice, but maybe they’re luxuries? My mother would never have slept. She pushed herself for every inyan, every minhag, with a dedication I just can’t seem to muster.

Are we weaker now? Am I?

I pull the covers over my head. It’s not about that, it’s that I’m exhausted and I have this horrendous relationship with exhaustion….

Sounds float upward, flying, then swirling through the air.

In half an hour we go to Tashlich.

Already dusk hangs over the sky like a milky veil. The day is almost over, and I am sleeping. But I’m not quite, something’s keeping me back. My mother’s voice, we don’t? I’m in that gossamer space: almost taken, still here.

Even that is restful. That’s what they told me. That just to lie still, to close your eyes and feign, that alone can refresh you.

And I hung on to that, in those terrible days after the birth of my first son, when my mind was taken by demons and I couldn’t sleep. The gift of a 60th of death eluded me like it never had before, leaving me dry, brittle, shaking. Value is realized in lack.

Whole nights, whole days passing, like a blur, like a blindfold. Begging, beseeching, mouth paper-dry from anxiety, from insomnia, one fueling the other in a vicious, trapping cycle.

It was never a thing. What do you know about breathing? Instinctive, ah. What do you know about sleeping?

I tried for solutions, conventional, holistic, herbal, to little avail. I wailed, I keened. I was desperation itself, falling to my knees, hugging them close and rocking myself. Into my skirt, a prayer. G-d, let me sleep, only You can. G-d!

Eventually, I pulled through. After a million whispered, shouted, trembled prayers, after I’d given up on praying entirely, and I — the ravaged, exhausted husk of a body — became the prayer, He helped and He healed in His way.

I got the gift back, the most overlooked gift, and with it I got my life back. And then, in the way of things in This World that’s designed to distract us, I forgot.

Until months later, on a trip to another place, a new bed, a stiff pillow, I tossed and turned, and the association awakened the lion of fear within me. Fully grown, maned, teeth bared. I hadn’t known it was still there. Such is the fear — a beast unto itself, that keeps me up. I am fine now, fine. No wildly swinging hormones, nothing real. And I sleep.

The problem is gone, but fear remains. And it becomes the problem. Here and there, on dark, dark nights I beg Him for sleep. The most basic, primitive need of all. Take me, take me on a cloud, shut me off to stimuli, let me rest, restore my energies, give me vigor.

I pray from a place of knowing what lack of sleep can do. And that place is so scary that words often fail and I say nothing at all, knowing, in the dark, that’s it’s Him, only He Who can help.

Creak of door.

I squint. Where am I?

A small boy stands on the threshold. Adorable and accusing.

Rosh Hashanah floods back into my consciousness.

Don’t sleep. Do sleep. Please G-d, please, sleep.

I scoop him beside me, and in my bed, in pajamas. I sit there for a moment more before I fumble for footwear and clothes and Tashlich.

We make it so complicated, I think. Adults, with sophisticated minds and a network of feelings and a tangle of associations. Sleep comes instinctively to animals, naturally to babies; it’s the way He made it.

I sigh, deep and long, like a shofar.

I know that when my body rebels and the sleeplessness is beyond me — that’s You.

But when I’m fine and the sleeplessness is my own stuff, my thoughts — it seems to be me, but it’s You, too.

Take me, let me surrender to You. Give me sleep, so that I may have life, the nights for the days.

It’s You, it’s all, all on You.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 860)

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