It’s amazing to me how often what I teach coincides with my world. Maybe its coincidence, but I doubt it. Literature is supposed to reflect the human experience and this week I am living proof.
It’s 2 am. I’ve become friends with 2 am. Not by choice, but by some weird insomniatic habit. It doesn’t seem to matter how early or late I go to bed, if I’m going to be hit by a bout of insomnia, it’s coming on at 2 am. Pop! My eyes open, I look at the clock and yes, 2 am. I have no explanation for it. I try to go back to sleep. Sometimes I try for hours with no success. Tonight, however, I don’t. I know why I’m awake tonight, so I succumb and I do the only thing I know to do to cope.
Earlier this week I read the Robert Burns’ poem “To A Mouse” with my students. If you are familiar with the poem, you’ll recall that it is an apology from a farmer to a field mouse for destroying her home right before the winter ‘hoar frost cold’ is about to settle over the land. There is much to glean from the poem. Empathy for creatures, unity with nature, but what strikes me the hardest actually comes in the last stanza:
“Still thou art blest, compar’d wi’ me
The present only toucheth thee:
But, Och! I backward cast my e’e.
On prospects drear!
An’ forward, tho’ I canna see,
I guess an’ fear!”
I always ask my students if they think the poem is really just about a mouse after reading the last stanza and inevitably they always say no, because they realize that the farmer is projecting his own worries onto the mouse. We speculate about what the farmer may be worried about, but in the end it doesn’t matter. The point is made. Humans are cursed. We worry. Beasts plan, thinking about the present and what must be done now with an innate sense of survival implanted in them that helps them survive in the future, but they don’t worry about the future. They simply deal with what is in front of them. Humans aren’t like that. The past haunts us. Memories, like cobwebs, weave through our heads trapping our thoughts in endless suppositions of “what ifs” and “couldawouldashouldas”. The future, though never attainable, is our constant goal. Like the carrot at the end of a stick, we keep lunging for it, thinking we are just about to get it, just for it to be jerked in another direction or for it to be just out of our reach, because the future is simply unknowable.
And yet, we insist on worrying about both the past and the future.
Constantly. Without fail.
And I know that is why I am awake now.
I find that I am frustrated with myself, knowing that worrying is foolish and a waste of time energy and obviously sleep. After all, “the best laid plans of mice and men often go askew”. But knowing it is one thing, being able to do something about it is another. So what do you do, when you recognize a problem and you can’t fix it?
You consult an expert.
It’s interesting that I know this particular verse backward and forward, but how well it relates to Burns has escaped me until now. Matthew 6:25-27 reads:
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; Or about your body, what you will wear; Is not live more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”
The idea of beasts not worrying is prevalent in the verse (birds, ugh, but point made). No past haunting them, not future looming before them. They are cared for. Then the stinger. Does worrying actually do anything for you?
No, actually I think science is even proving that it harms us; worrying is toxic.
These are big words, true words even, and easy to say. Not so easy to put into practice. So what do I do next? I’m currently suffering from insomnia, so obviously this is still a struggle of mine. But, I will tell you what I’m doing right now. I’m going to stop thinking right now about the past and the future and think about right now.
It’s 3am. And I am thankful for…
Sunlight…Air…Hot, soothing tea…friends who listen…a God who cares…sleep…