this is a sign unto you.
I am awake in the wee hours of a cold December morning, wrapped in a recently de-pilled and darned cashmere blanket which is as decadent and humbling as it sounds. I have lit a single candle and it is helping to make my inability to sleep feel less like a failure and more like a personal choice. I’ll take a page from Katherine May and call it night waking. I’ll embrace the fact that my brain turned itself on at an hour generally considered unreasonable, which is also to acknowledge that a brain bombarded in daylight hours with images of death and destruction is not a brain that can easily rest. I’ll try to write something. It will not be enough.
In sleep and in waking, I see children. Children caked in thick, gray dust. Children trembling. Children on hospital floors, their battered chests rising rapidly, desperate for air. Children returned to their families, unable to speak. Children, beaten. Babies limp in their parents’ arms. Babies bodies decomposing in hospital beds. Children’s bodies swaddled in white plastic burial shrouds.
Across the backyard, there’s a newborn crying. In the evenings lately, we’ve noticed the new parents pacing in their lit-up wintertime windows. We’ve spotted the tiny bundle in their arms, recognized the particular sway and bounce of cajoling an infant into sleep. The windows are dark now, but the cry briefly penetrates the night, the mechanical bleat of a brand new baby looking for comfort.
I’ve spent more money than I should have in the past week. New duvets, plus covers to fit, for three children who have outgrown, by some years now, their toddler-sized ones. They need to be warm, I reasoned. They need something to burrow under, something soft and cozy to cocoon themselves in. I need them to be warm. I spent too much time searching for the best options. I deliberated between colors, toggling from store to store comparing details and sales. I entered my credit card information as if children elsewhere are not being turned to dust.
The baby cries out again. This time the light flickers on. I cannot see, but I imagine a muslin swaddle being loosened, a mouth gulping and sputtering at a nipple, tiny fingers grasping at larger ones. Soon a fresh cloth will be smoothed over the end of a bed. The tiny, sated human will be placed on top, one corner will be tucked under the curve of a freshly diapered bottom, the other will be drawn snugly in the opposite direction, pinning arms next to a full, rounded belly. A velvet soft head will be kissed. (I can smell it, can’t you?) Parents will utter a silent prayer for sleep.
It is exhausting work, caring for babies. It demands waking up when we are tired, going to them when we are ourselves depleted. It is also simple work. It doesn’t require great learning or even, always, resources. In all of the most meaningful ways, we’re hardwired for the job. We give babies a warm place to sleep. We wrap their tiny bodies in soft cloths. We hold them close and give them food when they ask for it, which is often. We coax them to sleep. We offer our protection. We don’t turn away. We keep them alive.
If you haven’t yet joined the calls for permanent ceasefire in Israel/Gaza, I hope you will. If you don’t have your elected officials in your phone contacts, I hope you’ll add them. If you’re looking for a simple tool to help you make the calls, try 5calls.org.