I have heard from more than a few friends that sleep doesn’t always come easily these days. Sometimes not at all; sometimes in fits and spurts; sometimes disturbed by dreams and even nightmares. It seems that just when I think I’ve conquered the night, I am caught in another bought of insomnia – mind racing, eyes wide open.
So I turn again to a lullaby. Another of these gentle songs that are meant to lull us to sleep.
This is an old one from Germany. It is attributed to a teacher and composer, Karl Friedrich Schulz around 1824, but there is some indication that it was based on a far older tune, possibly dating back to the 14th century, and one that has been used by a number of other composers in various works.
O wie wohl ist mir am Abend, mir am Abend,
Wenn zur Ruh die Glocken läuten, Glocken läuten:
Bim, bam, bim, bam, bim, bam.
Oh, how lovely is the evening, is the evening,
When the bells are sweetly ringing, sweetly ringing!
Ding, dong, ding, dong, ding dong.
I’m not sure how I feel about bells ringing as I try to go to sleep. But there is something lovely about the idea of hearing bells softly pealing in the distance as the sun sets and all becomes peaceful. While on a glorious vacation. In some beautiful spot, perhaps an ancient hilltop village in the middle of Tuscany. Well…
Not many of us currently find ourselves in some kind of idyllic setting that can evoke this sort of image. We are not on vacation. We are not on an adventure in places that are new or exciting, finding ourselves thrilled with sites we’ve never seen and experiences we’ve never had. We don’t end our days reflecting on the beauty we’ve seen, tired in that wonderful way that allows us to sink into sleep filled with visions of what awaits us in the morning. Rather, we are limited in how we spend time with others – who we can see, whether we can hug our grandchildren or share a meal safely. We are hyper conscious of how we interact with strangers, and how we need to change our world, our cities, our every surrounding and behaviour. We are thinking and evaluating and aware and bothered and cautious and angry and lonely and trying and trying and trying. We are tired.
I am not suggesting that there is nothing lovely in our evenings or our days. There is much. But some of the bells that ring us to sleep carry more than the peaceful imagery found in this lullaby. Some are the voices of those who must be heard. Some are the cries of those who have never been heard. Some are our fears and questions about the future. Some are our loneliness and our pain.
I could easily make a long list of things that I am thankful for. Pages and pages could be filled with the blessings I have in my life. The people, the experiences, the things. And yet, sleep can still be elusive. We are unsettled. For many reasons. Good reasons, sad reasons, scary reasons. Reasons that sound like bells as we try to find the sleep we need. Bells that remind us in gentle and clanging ways that life is more than ease and comfort. That it is uncertain and it requires us to hear when it is unbalanced; to listen when things are not right. Nothing is guaranteed, we don’t deserve anything, all is fleeting.
And yet, there is a beauty to be found in the sound of these bells. They ring out with a song of possibility. A song that offers us the option to be better, to create a better world, to rebuild our lives in better ways. How often do we get that opportunity? How often do we take it? This uncertain time is offering us something we simply cannot ignore. It is really quite incredible.
I admit that I don’t enjoy lying awake with bells pealing through my mind. I long for a peaceful sleep with which to refresh enough to face challenges with strength and purpose. But when that isn’t possible, perhaps there is space to simply listen to the bells and seek their beauty and guidance and understand that what they are there for may be necessary and important. Life isn’t about perfection, it is about growth. Growth happens in many ways. As the bells gently ring you to sleep each night, embrace their song. Despite our heavy weariness, it is a song we need to learn, understand and sing.