By Heidi Shott
In my dream we were sitting around the table in a staff meeting at the diocesan office. A colleague announced that someone had discovered five snakes in the basement of the building. The Bishop turned to me in his empathic way that suggests he knows he’s asking something difficult but that he feels you’re up to it, and said, “Heidi, will you take care of that?”
I gulped and tried to muster the courage to say, “I’m the wrong person for the job.”
“Mom?” I recognize this voice.
Colin, my son, my love, my beautiful child. Many times over the years I’ve chosen to ignore this nighttime voice. If I do that, I know it will return in five minutes just as plaintive. The sooner I answer, the sooner we’ll both get back to sleep.
I throw off the covers and stand up. Scott turns onto his back, breathing loudly — the Breathe Rite Strips he has so much faith in doing a poor job of it. I walk down the dark hall into Marty’s room. Colin is on a mattress on the floor. Since he’s been sleeping in his brother’s room he hasn’t been wakeful, so I’m a little pissed at this beckoning but also a little relieved to be sprung from snake retrieval duty.
“What, Col?” I ask.
“Bad dream,” he says.
“It’s almost daybreak,” I lie. “It’ll be light soon. Go back to sleep.”
Back in bed I press the light on my travel alarm to read “3:35.” Compared to the time between the building of the Egyptian pyramids and this very minute, it IS almost daybreak. I close my eyes and wait for the other shoe to drop. A few minutes pass.
Back in the bedroom I lay down crossways at the foot of his mattress and say nothing.
“Don’t talk,” he says. “I don’t want to wake up Martin.” We settle down. After a moment Colin tosses a spare pillow my way. He has his tempur-pedic pillow that he blew his whole wad of Christmas and birthday money on at Brookstone.
We settle down again, but after 15 minutes I begin to get cold and restless with my legs hanging off the side. He knows I’m about to leave.
“I’m getting cold,” I say.
“You can climb in with me.”
He knows I’m trying to be patient. “It would mean a lot to me,” he says. “It would give you an opportunity to spend time with your son.”
At this I smile and climb under the covers with him. It is very warm; he’s like a little furnace. He offers me a corner of his tempur-pedic, a remarkable gesture.
We settle down and I begin to think about all the people I know who have probably been wakeful this night: Our godson, Lucas, a two-year old who has a standing 4 a.m. date with his parents in their bed; my mother, Audrey, in Louisiana visiting friends, no doubt listening to the radio turned down low and dozing; our friend Tom across the river is a light sleeper and his five-year old daughter Jenny knows it.
I have other friends who are wakeful people: one watches C-Span, another surfs the TV for late-night episodes of Jeopardy. Scott is often wakeful for a few hours at night. Sometimes I wake to see a flat place on his side and know he’s playing gin rummy on the computer in his office. When I am wakeful, I go down to the couch on the porch with my book and fall asleep just as the sky begins to brighten over the millpond.
I find comfort in these thoughts of others in the same boat, but it doesn’t help me sleep–no matter how cozy it is here with Colin. From his twitchiness, I can tell he isn’t asleep either.
“I’m going back to bed, Dude.” I say with a sigh. “I’ll put your sweet dreams blanket over you. That will help.”
This blanket used to contain magic. It is one of two wonderful, heavy-duty quilts made for our twin sons before their birth by our friend Joanne. When they would wake in the night, I’d go to their room and say, “Oh look! Your sweet dreams blanket has come off. I’ll just re-adjust it and everything will be all right.” And it always worked.
In recent years the quilts have lost some of their magic in the daytime, but at night they regain a measure of their old power to protect and comfort the children in my absence.
I climb back into my own bed. It’s grown cold and Scott is far away across the king-sized expanse. I try to find a comfortable position and begin to pray. I recall a line from Psalms that says, “The angel of the Lord encamps round about them.” I pray that angels of the Lord will encamp around the four corners of Colin’s mattress, of Marty’s bed, of our bed, of the beds of everyone we care for, of the bed’s of everyone we don’t know, of the beds of everyone in the whole universe. In the cadence of this ever-expanding prayer, it is impossible to remain awake.
When I was cleaning out my desk recently, I found a yellow sticky note on which I had written, “Don’t worry about the world ending today. It’s already tomorrow in Australia.”
There’s something reassuring about knowing that somewhere the worries and terrors of the night have been pierced by the light of day, even if it is not where I am. There’s something comforting about knowing that someone will come when you call and lie at the foot of your bed and say nothing. There’s something dear about knowing that you’re the one who can do that for another human being: a child, a friend, a lover, a parent, and even, sometimes when you’re open enough, a stranger.
Just before I drift off, I think that perhaps I will leave a deck of cards at the head and foot of Colin’s mattress tomorrow night. The angels at the four corners of his bed must get bored and might appreciate playing a little late-night gin rummy. I gaze at the clock again and through the fuzz of near-sightedness, see that it is 4:45.
It’s still not daybreak, but it’s closer.
Heidi Shott is Canon for Communications and Social Justice in the Episcopal Diocese of Maine.