Of Coyotes and Trains and Tremors, or Take Off Your Shoes And Sit
I joke that R.E.M. is only a band to me.
Because of my son’s TBI, I sleep next to him to help and protect him in the night.
For example, when we snooze, you and I will turn to our other side or stretch our legs with no effort, but for Karl, he’s like a beetle on his back. He can try to move, but mostly just wriggles. So I’m there to slide my feet under his to pull them straight, or to lift him up to flip him.
In a good and gentle way, of course.
Too, sometimes he has episodes of myoclonus, which look like a seizure, but aren’t: they’re simply a full-on full-body involuntary muscle spasm. Hiccups are a form of myoclonus, but Karl’s myoclonus is like getting hiccups on steroids. His whole body, right down to his eye muscles, is wracked by violent twitching.
My poor boy.
As a matter of fact, that very thing happened early early this morning.
Because I was right there, I could jump on him and work against the spasms, pushing and pulling, like we might against the muscle tangle of a charlie horse.
After a minute, they finally subsided, and so we both caught our breath while we tried to fall back asleep.
If one happens, another is sure to within the next 24 hours, so today I kept my boy home from school.
At this very moment I’m snuggled next to my son, he happily watching his favorite video, and I trying to think deep theological thoughts for only about 4 different projects.
While sleep deprived.
See, because not only did Karl get socked with his tremors last night.
The coyotes, who have taken up a den right behind our house in the tiny dip of a valley, began to sing (again) at 12:59 a.m.
I know the time, because I recorded their howls. Almost every night, for the last month, they have been fairly raucous, even calling out to packs up and down the Shore, I am sure of it, for I hear the responses.
At least they weren’t engaging in the Cycle of Life last night, as they are wont to do (I am not sure what is louder: the eerie yips and howls of the coyotes or the awful cries of the deer-beyond-escape).
Last night they were, though, definitely chatty about something.
Right as the train came by.
Yeah, so try to fall right back asleep after that.
Did I mention that these creatures are right behind my house?
Right, so in related news (honest), a few weeks back, thanks to a fluke and a bargain (and probably because the new version came out last week), my daughter and I got a deal on some Apple Watches.
I mostly like mine, except for this: it has taken upon itself to announce to me, randomly throughout the day, that it has determined: “It’s time to stand now!”
Every time it does, I glare at it.
I am a single mama. I am self-employed. I get no sleep.
Given that, Psalm 127:2 pretty much simultaneously describes and explains a lot in my world: “In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat— for he grants sleep to those he loves.”
So yeah, if God and the designers of the Apple Watch cared about people like me at all, there would be an adjusted—maybe even default!—setting on the stupid thing for single, self-employed mamas who get no sleep.
It should go something like this: “It’s time to nap now!” or “You should have a glass of wine now,” or “You should have both a glass of wine and a nap now.”
These would be far more relevant to my life.
Now, I get the point of the reminder: standing on occasion to break up habits of sitting all of the time is healthy.
It is definitively not healthy to sit, and sit, and sit.
In fact, although I do a quick two mile walk in the mornings after Karl gets on the bus, when it stays dark until 8:30 a.m. and snow drifts are high and those coyotes you just heard are wandering about on my very own road, well, I don’t go for my stroll.
Those covers call me right on back in to cuddle for another spell, or I hop out long enough to get that steaming cup of strong coffee to hold while I think on Matters Of Snow And Warm And Cozy Blankets.
As a matter of fact, this summer I worked off 20 pounds of winter sitting-rather-than-standingness and I feel great…she writes, as she is staring winter and those impending 20 pounds squarely in the eyes.
So I get the intent of the reminder.
But I do think that I’m not alone in hunching that we might be on the move more than we give ourselves credit for.
We might be more frenetic than we realize that we are.
We might need a nap more than we need a stand.
I have come to think that we use activities, be they work or hobbies, as a way of justifying ourselves and proving ourselves to others…and perhaps most of all to ourselves.
The busier our lives, the more that we seem to think that we can make the case that we’re not sloths (with all due respect to sloths).
Sometimes, life is busy, and you don’t get enough sleep, and that just is the way that it is, right?
Like, you go and tell the coyotes in the middle of the night to keep it down.
Doesn’t work so great, does it.
Life sometimes intervenes like that.
Deadlines loom, shifts need to be clocked, bills need to be paid, laundry piles up, friends want to meet.
But all of that being true, here is what is also true: perhaps a nap, a cancelled non-essential event, a nap, a declined invite, a nap, maybe a mental health day, with a nap, perhaps these things need not be sources of guilt or sheepishness.
Instead, perhaps they can be moments where we recognize that we are not finite.
We are limited, not least of all by what we can do, by how much we can do, and by when we can do it.
Perhaps intentionally taken pauses are occasions when we can consider a dose of humility.
In Lighten Our Darkness: Toward an Indigenous Theology of the Cross, Douglas John Hall wrote this:
The discovery of limits can only be for us the most traumatic experience. Our entire continental experiment has been based on the mirage of limitless horizons. Limitless land, limitless resources, limitless opportunities, limitless human know-how, limitless freedom. So thoroughly has the spirit of uncircumscribed potential been absorbed into our North American consciousness that to begin to question it is almost an outrage. Of all the aspects of the optimism that has informed our way of life, perhaps the most unshakeable is the belief in limitlessness. (214)
So many things here catch my attention, but perhaps most especially the word “traumatic.”
That’s a kicker.
It’s traumatic, Hall says, to realize that we are finite.
So we stave off that realization by filling up our schedule with endless commitments and plans and people.
Infinite people don’t sit, see.
And they fill up circles that show steps and heart rates and exercise bands.
And moreover, they can even share their ‘success’ with others for encouragement (and maybe even, depending on, a neener-neener?).
Ironically, I’m fairly sure that in our attempt to stave off the traumatic, we cause ourselves trauma.
Remember that text from Exodus 3, the one where Moses was told to take off his sandals?
Goes like this: “5 Then [God] said, ‘Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.’”
Anathea Portier-Young, Associate Professor at Duke University, has written a fine commentary about the text here.
Sandals, she points out, were worn for journeys, for protecting oneself against rough paths, and symbolized status—or lack thereof.
But, she goes on to say, when
…Moses removes his sandals he will find himself at journey’s end, at the true goal of every journey. He will release himself from every claim so that he can accept the claim God makes upon him. He will strip away strivings for status, success, and stability. He will find his true ground and he will know where he stands.
“He will strip away strivings for status, success, and stability. He will find his true ground and he will know where he stands.”
He will know where he stands.
Maybe, then, that’s the thing for the Apple Watch to consider, for us to consider: we don’t need a “Time To Stand” reminder.
We need a “Know Where You Stand” reminder.
A “Take off your shoes and take a load off while you think about it” reminder.
Maybe we need a “This place is holy ground” reminder—and a reminder that this exchange with Moses and God took place on ordinary ground made holy because God was there.
As God is everywhere, perhaps right this very moment, you should take off your shoes.
You should sit while thinking about where you stand.
You should take your phone off the hook and you should close your eyes (and close your windows if you are in coyote neighborhood), and you should take a nap.
For you are justified, you are finite, and God is present both in your busy-ness, and your breathlessness, and your restings, from the beginning to the end of your day, and your days.
And gosh darn it have I mentioned that you deserve a nap?