I woke up at 3:00 AM last night. I don't think I went back to sleep.
My wife asked me what I think about all night when I lie there unsleeping. I said, "I don't know." But I do. Sometimes I tell her, "If you wake up in the night and want to talk, I'm here," but I don't think she has taken me up on that offer. She is a very sound sleeper. Even the cats don't want to talk, being too busy with their dreams, dead weight on the end of the bed, immovable, despite my prodding. Like my mother, who also spent her sleep hours carefully, put it once to me: "I plan all kinds of things, solve all kinds of problems, redo things I've already done. Been everywhere in my thoughts."
Ditto. Yet I am strangely thankful for the dreamlike state of insomnia. Prayers, inchoate, finished off by the Holy Spirit, drift upward out of a mosaic of the tapestry that is my life. That's mighty hopeful and prosaic. Let's say the jumble that is my life. Wildly significant thoughts alight, only to be lost in the current, unwritten and, finally, forgotten. Well, that's hopeful too. Maybe they weren't that significant, but only seemed so, like neon billboards in the empty darkness of the night.
Last night, had I been a sound sleeper, I would have missed the sound of steady desert rain on an adobe roof, surprisingly like rain on a canvas tent. I wondered about the construction of the roof for a while. I imagined the coyotes or havelinas lapping water from puddles, a rare Fall refreshment, like extended Summer monsoons, the cactus wrens snug and dry in their nests in saguaro trunks, the desert hares bailing rainwater from their warrens. Farther down the mountain, I could see the usually dry bed of the Rillito with at least a thin ribbon of water, maybe more, its subterranean presence suddenly manifest for a time, only to plunge back when the rains cease. I even wrote something, revised it, sounded it out in my head, and then forgot it in the fog between waking and sleeping; I remember only its absence, but even absence fuels my present.
We all need sleep of course, some more than others. Rather than complain about my lack I am thankful rather for extra time to pray, to reflect, to let my mind wander, something I can't do as well behind the wheel of a car or in when revising a document for work on the screen in front of me. Dreaming has little reward at such times.
The word insomnia comes from the Latin "in," that is, "not," and "somnus," for sleep, which together carry no negative connotation. Unfortunately, in actual usage it is viewed negatively, as something to be overcome. Perhaps a better word is "vigil," one which means a devotional watching, a staying awake for some good purpose.
God allowing, I will keep vigil. I must be awake for a purpose. If I could just figure out what it is.
But do me a favor: If you see me sleeping during the day sometime, in a church pew or an easy chair, don't wake me, OK? I'm preparing for a vigil. Don't envy my gift.