There’s a poem I particularly love that’s called Canción de Cuna (Lullaby) by Juan Ramón Jimenez, a Spanish poet.
no te beso.
Tú me has dado tu alma
con tus ojos abiertos
-o jardín estrellado-
a tu cuerpo.
No, dormida no eres
tú…No, no, no te beso!
…Infiel te fuera a ti si te besara
a ti …
no te beso.
you sleep I will not kiss you
You have given me your soul
with your eyes wide open
– oh, garden of stars –
to your body.
No, asleep you’re not
you …No, no, no, I will not kiss you!
…Unfaithful would I be to you if I were to
kiss you now …
no, I will not kiss you
The lover in this poem is watching his love as she sleeps (and struggling with his desire to kiss her). It’s strange, isn’t it, how intimate it is to actually sit beside someone sunk in dreams – which is probably why it is more momentous in some ways to spend the night with someone than to “just” have sex with them. A sleeping person lies revealed, the face softens, limbs fall this way and that, and in sleep we do not hold our tummy in or stretch our spine to look taller, slimmer, healthier than what we are. In sleep we revert to who we truly are – or were, as years of holding your spine erect (sucking your tummy in, tilting your face this way or that to hide the double chin … take your pick) makes this such an ingrained habit it becomes part of us. Those of us that make an effort to meet the world with a constant smile (many of us do) generally don’t smile while asleep, instead the mouth falls open, the features smoothen, and look, there might even be a trickle of something wet at the corner of the mouth.
I never sleep on planes – I have this idea that it is better to be awake should something happen (and isn’t it a miracle that only rarely do “things” happen to airplanes? I mean, tubes of thinnest aluminium criss-crossing the sky and most of the times we get unscathed from point A to point B). This tends to make my loved ones grin.
“What would it help?” my husband wonders.
“Well, at least I’d be awake.”
“And? Do you think it would up your chances of survival?”
“Umm…” (No, actually. Or maybe yes. Definitely yes. And I make sure I have my credit cards in my pocket to pay my way back home)
Back to the subject: I never sleep on planes, but the majority of the passengers on the late night flights do. Many of them will wake up with cricks in their necks, given their posture, some sleep with their head on the tray table, and then there’s the young, slim and agile, who somehow seem to be sleeping in ultimate comfort no matter hos constrained the space. Anyway, as I’m not asleep, and as I also have this thing about drinking litres of water while flying (Someone told me one should drink one litre per hour of flight. That must be wrong. Still, I do my best …) I do a lot of walking back and forth to the lavatory. In the middle of the night it’s like wandering through a nursery. Everywhere sleeping people, some on their backs, some curled like shrimps on their side. Here and there someone is snoring, total strangers lie back to back with scant inches between them, and sometimes heads will be pillowed on the accomodating shoulder of the person occupying the neighbouring seat. We would never allow such proximity if we were awake, would we?
All these sleeping people look very vulnerable. Mouths are slack and soft, heads are tilted back to expose throats, and hands lie open and relaxed on chests, thighs, armrests. (Not mine; they clench firmly round the armrest. Not much of a flying fan.) Humanity is at its best asleep. Strife is no more, petty squabbles don’t exist, and side by side are people of different gender, nationalities, race and creed – people who would never cross each others path in their day-to- day life, let alone sleep beside each other. Apart from the weak light from the galley and the shadowy shape of the distant flight attendant it is only me and all these sleeping people, for now free of cares and burdens, for now trusting that others will see them safe through the night. I have to repress an urge to go tucking them all in …
Sleeping people are beautiful people, no matter if they’re old or young, fat or skinny. I think it’s the peace and openness in their faces, the faint glow that stands around them – as if their souls were peeking through the skin and bone. For an instant there, I can discern the glimmer of divinity than lives in each and every one of us, and it makes me smile to myself while thinking that maybe there is hope for us, for our children and the planet we live on. We’re not bad sorts, us humans, it’s just that we wander somewhat overwhelmed by the hectic lives we lead. But when we sleep, we dream, reverting to the innocence and faith of youth. Maybe that’s what’s wrong with the world, maybe all it takes to build a Brave New World is a couple of hours more of undisturbed sleep. I wish …
It seems apt to end this post by wishing you goodnight. May your sleep be restful, your dreams full of hope and light. As that old lullaby goes, “lay thee down now and rest, may thy slumber be blessed.” God knows you need it – all of us do!