Keeping Watch

In Jurassic Park, after climbing a tree and being sneezed on by a “veggie-saurs,” Alan Grant and the kids Lex and Tim settle in to sleep. But the kids are nervous about more dinosaurs coming back while they sleep. Alan promises to stay awake, even all night. But it deeply bothered me as a child that, after the kids settle against him, comforted, we see his eyes close too. And in the next scene, we see the three of them waking up. This felt like a betrayal. Why, I asked my parents, did Dr. Grant promise to stay awake if he was just going to fall asleep? They answered me immediately, “Because the kids wouldn’t have gone to sleep otherwise.” I understood the answer, but I felt unsettled by it. I likely didn’t realized that they’d been in Dr. Grant’s position many times, promising to stay awake so that I would feel secure enough to rest. But I did wonder what my parents might have lied about in the past in order to set me at ease.

A friend recently suggested in a blog post that her and her daughter’s tendency to lay awake at night might stem from a subconscious feeling that someone need to stay awake to keep watch. 

I don’t yet have kids, but when I was a kid, I certainly laid awake a lot. I sometimes got up to make the long walk through the dark house to get more water, but otherwise I didn’t turn on a light or read. Only very rarely did I even turn my radio on, so softly I could barely hear it, so no one else would know I was awake. I’m not sure why it felt so important that my wakefulness be a secret. I didn’t want to get in trouble. I didn’t want to be doing something wrong. I’m not sure why I thought listening to the radio or turning on a light would be doing something wrong, or why I felt my inability to sleep would be seen as a personal failing or disobedience.

My whole childhood was like that. I lived within very strict rules, largely of my own making. My family and school (more so the former than the very loud latter) provided structure and rules that felt largely fair, but I regulated myself to even tighter boundaries. I think, now, it had a lot to do with my anxiety. All the things I was afraid of and nervous about, formed an uncontrollable hum in my mind like a swarm of bees. And I was unsure how to deal with it. Reading helped. Playing helped. But laying awake in the middle of the night, not a lot helped. I prayed. I counted. I imagined (though this could swing into more mental anguish at times).

In particular, I remember laying awake, wanting to give in to that feeling that I’d be more comfortable on my other side, but I was afraid someone would climb through the window while my back was turned. So I’d lay facing the window, trembling with anxiety, uncomfortable, trying to take comfort in what logic I could. My windows were high on the front side of the house. It’d be very hard for someone to scale their way in, even if they could get the windows open. I’d only seen them open a handful of times, usually when Mom was cleaning in the spring. I knew they stayed locked. Still, I worried. Sometimes I talked myself into rolling over and staying there. Sometimes I rolled over but couldn’t stand not to see that vulnerable window. I often prayed, talking to God about my fears as well as whatever came into my head. I got better at praying without ceasing, but prayer didn’t make me feel like someone was in the room with me. Prayer didn’t make me feel secure enough to sleep. Prayer was how I felt less alone while remaining away and anxious, and sometimes afraid.

Eventually, I made a cross out of popsicle sticks to put over that window, then over the one my bed was under, and finally my bedroom door, just to be thorough. This reassured me, a spiritual guard made physical. And when my mom saw what I was doing, she encouraged me. She helped me decorate them with broken bracelets and markers. Later, she bought me a nice ceramic one for my birthday. 

If I could tell my past self something, at almost any age of my childhood and adolescence, I’d tell her that she won’t always struggle with what she struggles with now. I get headaches and migraines now. I still have anxiety. Sometimes it affects me sleep. But so many of the big things she struggled with and stressed about are so much easier for me now. And I think she would take hope in the absolute assurance that one day, her brain will be able to let go of those anxieties in the middle of the night. I’ll be able to roll over without thinking about it or debating it, and my world will expand far beyond what I allowed myself at her age. 

When I wake in the middle of the night now, I have no qualms about rolling over. I don’t feel the need to get up and check the locks on the doors. And when I lay awake at night, it’s not because I feel insecure in my home. Though, some nights, I do feel watchful in a broad sense. Watchful and praying, though everything around me is at peace. Watchful and praying for the insecure, alone, afraid, abused, oppressed, marginalized. Watchful and praying for the world, melting and burning and starving and sick. I lay beside my husband, feel the curl of my cat pressed against my legs, and talk to God as I keep watch.

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