“Life is short, stay awake for it” – a witty saying but a poor way to live

by Mr. Sheehy

This summer I accomplished a frighteningly astounding number of tasks, all because I traded sleep for projects and rarely stopped to play, aside from those brief moments around noon when I hung around while the girls ate lunch. Unfortunately, when due dates crammed me closer, I even missed out on some of those, and I wandered like a zombie through a month, speaking to people in broken bits of CSS code.

I haven’t accomplished nearly as much this fall, aside from the impressive stretch of house painting before we moved into our new place. When I finished that last night before we moved in, I drove past our neighbor as I left the new house: he was returning from his morning run. I may be crazy, but I maintain that he is clearly more crazy than I, because he does that all the time, whereas I do it only when moving into the only house we plan to buy for the next trillion years. Other than that stretch, I’ve gone to bed somewhere near a reasonable time a whole bunch of times.

I think. Now that I consider it longer, the playoffs didn’t help me out, with the Red Sox playing every night. I kept thinking I wasn’t staying up too late, because I knew my brother was up too and his clock was two hours ahead; but that didn’t change that it was past 11:00 most of the time when I hit the power button on the TV. Why do we do this to ourselves? We eat the lotus plant and stare at the native bloom, when we know we should be in bed, getting the rest we need and claim we are desperate to take.

Sometimes I stay up idiotically, but more often I don’t resist the temptation to stay up and accomplish more. Last night I wanted to finish an assignment and to read a thrilling chapter about survey research. I almost made it into the section with the example publication, but I decided that if I fell asleep in the swivel chair, it might roll out from beneath me suddenly, throwing me forward to crack my head on the stationary bicycle that I promised I’d use. I did use it, but only twice. Exercising takes up so much time, you see, and I don’t have that much of it.

That’s what I claim; that’s what I feel; and that’s the truth, though I have more time than many folks, because I’m not sleeping much. Tonight, for example, I spent an hour connecting with former students on Facebook. That hour alone justifies my joining the networking site – those kids, who are no longer kids, are worth every moment I give them. And that’s true, except that I have only so many moments, even if I eek a couple more from that clock on the bottom right corner of the screen, the one I continually ignore. By ignoring it now, for example, I’m even squeezing in this blog article, which I write not out of a longing to communicate something particular, but out of a longing to communicate.

I heard a podcast from John Piper a while back where he addressed this desire to do much and forsake sleep. His point was simple, and yet profound (isn’t all the greatest wisdom exactly that?): I’m better when I’m rested. I’m nicer, kinder, more patient, and more loving. And though folks argue against there being anything that is biologically meant to happen a certain way, the truth is clear here: people were meant to sleep. We need it, and to pretend we don’t by staying up to accomplish one more thing, however important we think that one thing is, is to act with arrogance. To go to bed, to admit to needing to rest before accomplishing any more, is to act with humility. It is an action that faces the clear reality of our station as human beings.

I am not God; my work is not so important that I should forsake the sleep I need to act with easy loving kindness towards my daughters and my students tomorrow. Yes, I accomplished a lot last summer, but if I am to increase in wisdom, I would keep that time frame isolated and not catch myself saying next spring, “I accomplished a lot last fall.” Accomplishments are good and have their place, but most of them are meant to support the things I value most, and to appreciate those things, I need sleep. So with that, I say, “Good night, blog.”