These days if I am suddenly awakened in the middle of the night by the realization that I have forgotten something, it is usually my Ambien, whereas for many years I was terrified that I had simply forgotten how to sleep. It’s a skill, perhaps, which we too often mistake for a birthright, or anyway that is one of the many explanations that tend to cross your mind when the clock always says pretty much the same thing as the last time you looked at it.
Some babies arrive home from the hospital already equipped with the logic of days neatly divided between waking and sleeping, and some need that logic thrust upon them. In becoming the teachers, we are meanwhile conceivably returning to some skittish and primordial versions of ourselves, standing guard against the tiniest bumps and squeaks and squalling in the night; whether these are happening inside or outside of our caves (and imaginations) is often hard to tell.
It’s easy to lose yourself to the mission, though I would imagine that most of us manage to find our ways back, often pointing our little rationalizations through the darkness, many as fuzzy and downright fantastical as those we foist onto our kids. Think of everything that can – that does – go wrong all around us as we just lay there resigned for eight hours to not making a difference. It’s a pretty amazing feat of daredevilry, when you think about it, which some of us are probably over-inclined to do.
And if we should inevitably pass down to our children their fair share of native bugaboos and genetic restlessness, at least we might also furnish some evidence of a world not altogether teeming with wanton intentions every time they close their eyes. I like the idea of street sweepers out there, and garbage trucks (which I can hear through my windows) making the world neater for me while I sleep, and newspaper printers making it more interesting, and freighter captains and truck drivers bringing me mangoes and coconuts, and bakers making my donuts and bread. All of this is the subject of Jessie Hartland’s Night Shift, and it is enormously inspiring, still there are so many loose ends to have to consider here, such dizzy, diverging humanity that I’m not sure you’d want to miss any of it in real life.
A very different kind of presence inhabits the darkness in Dan Yaccarino’s Good Night, Mr. Night, brushing past trees, and closing flowers, calming the seas and the animals. I remember first reading this book as the wholly unprepared father of a child who seemed to have way too much going on in his head between sunset and dawn, then several years later to his brother who fought against sleep on pure principle – I remember in both cases worrying if Mr. Night wasn’t a little like God - also whispering dreams and keeping the stars in their places - and wondering if this was really the sort of fellow whom I wished to entrust with my children’s loneliest hours. Wasn’t he likely to raise as many questions as he answered? Or wasn’t this maybe the first of many leaps of faith which we are meant to practice, practice, practice till we get to the other side?