“I put a piece of paper under my pillow, and when I could not sleep I wrote in the dark.” – Henry David Thoreau
I’ve been spending too much time in bed, tired but not sleeping. Both late at night while waiting for slumber and in the morning when the baby wants to nurse.
On Sunday, lying in bed in the last hour of Mother’s Day, I prayed a gratitude prayer, thanking spirit for my children. I have the two girls I always wanted subconsciously, plus a sweet boy who considers me “mom” simply because I have loved him and taken part in caring for him since he was two.
This summer I will care for the three of them at home and I must mentally prepare myself for the marathon. When we have this much time all together with no school, my patience wears thin. There’s three of them and one of me. But I don’t want to be the angry mommy. I want to see messes and squabbles and even disobedience with equanimity. Their childhood is all too fleeting and I want to make the most out of it. Not just for them, but for me. I want to look back on these years and know that I did my best. I want to feel like my best is good enough. Sometimes I am not so sure.
On the evening of Mother’s Day, complex emotions and utter exhaustion induced unrelenting sleeplessness, my head buzzing with metaphysical possibilities. I’d just finished reading “After This: When Life Is Over, Where Do We Go?” by Claire Bidwell Smith, a book I couldn’t put down for two days, the pages containing a litany of profound revelations about death and the afterlife. Like many, I have long contemplated death with morbid curiosity, trying to work it all out in my head while knowing I will never know the truth, not until I’ve arrived. Claire’s book helped excavate a knowingness from deep within: there is no such thing as death, not in the sense that our souls cease to exist after they leave these bodies. Death is a transformation. There is consciousness after death, even if it looks and feels different than how we look and feel while animating a human body.
Sometimes when I stay up too late (I appear to enjoy staying up too late), I find myself in tears because I love everyone so much and this is all temporary, and when I am overtired, I am less equipped to accept impermanence. My little baby is a toddler and my first baby is a girl. We are young but we are getting older. We are here but we won’t be here forever. This is what makes every moment of a good life bittersweet.
When I can’t sleep I start writing in my head. I reflect and deflect and it’s difficult to stop. I tell myself I will remember these thoughts and I will write them down when I wake up. Usually, I forget everything. I wonder, is this sleeplessness happening for a reason? Am I supposed to get up and turn on a light and disrupt my sleep cycle further by writing down these random thoughts? Will they mean something to someone if I do?
Being of service to others gives our time on earth purpose and meaning. With purpose and meaning, we do not need to pursue happiness. (Another simple but profound truth extrapolated in Claire’s book.) I am at service to my children 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, but what about the rest of the world? What can I do for the rest of the world that will mean something?
We can and should spin our passions into agents for change that will last longer than our bodies. It’s okay if you’re not sure what that looks like, neither do I. I’m going to start with what I love to do, which is writing and making art. Creating is my lifeline. I’m going to start by tackling the issues that have challenged me personally, writing for social change and intrapersonal discovery and spiritual awakening, yours and mine. We transform the earth by transforming ourselves.
All of this just to say that I hope you will join in the conversation by slowing down and taking the time to figure it out: why is it that I am here? What do I love and what do I hate and how can I shine love into those dark places?
Claire is doing it. She is shining light on perhaps the darkest place, and that is death.