Mary had a little lamb; it was a little sheep,
but then it joined the Mormon Church and died of lack of sleep.
All my life, I have been taught the importance of marriage and family. I was raised in an active, loving, Mormon family in rural Utah â€“ where the sky is blue, the grass is green only when irrigated constantly (and, often, not even then), the water runs through the tap cold, fishing and hunting are a short walk from home â€“ and all else is right in the world. With my parents’ example, I took domestic peace and marital joy for granted growing up, and my early married life did nothing to disabuse me of my adolescent assumptions. After all, I married the only girl I have ever loved â€“ the girl who, at the ripe old age of 15 stole my heart and completed my soul. Once she turned 16, she was the only girl I dated â€“ and we were married less than two months after I returned from my mission. I valued marriage, and I loved my wife â€“ and I slept well each night.
I attended college as a visible anomaly â€“ a 22-year-old, married freshman â€“ the first married freshman in institutional memory, according to the Freshman Deanâ€™s Office. By the time I graduated (six years later, but thatâ€™s a story for another time), we had our first three children â€“ again, the first such situation in institutional memory. I didnâ€™t sleep much during those six years, since working full-time, attending college full-time, serving in the Church in various callings, loving a wonderful woman and helping raise small children didnâ€™t leave much time for trivial things like sleep. (If I tried to live that schedule now, it would kill me.) However, when I slept, I slept soundly.
Through the years my family grew to include six children, various non-paying boarders at the house that is known among our childrenâ€™s friends simply as â€œHotel DeGrawâ€ and, at its foundation, the girl who continued to amaze me through it all. I loved her more each year, particularly as I watched how deeply she cared about being a good person and helping others no matter the pain it caused her. For all those years, I ended each night at her side â€“ talking about the day, our kids, our cares, our joys and our sorrows until we fell asleep â€“ sleeping as happily and contentedly and soundly as it is possible to do.
I tell you all of that to tell you this: When we first moved to Ohio, we did so for a job that required I travel. Eventually, I worked into a position where I was traveling extensively. I like to travel. Driving, flying, seeing new cities, staying in hotels, just about everything associated with travel I enjoy – except for those multiple thousand mile drives with multiple tired children in multiple foul moods after multiple days on the road. Otherwise, I like the open road and sky – and the opportunity to think (uninterrupted) for hours at a time.
On the other hand, I quickly found that I have a hard time sleeping alone when I travel. You see, ever since we have had kids, we have had an open bedroom door policy in our house. This means that for the past 19 years I have spent most of my nights either crammed up next to my wife or crowded to the edge of our bed, hoping a strong gust from the fan (or a random push or kick) didn’t send me tumbling to the floor â€“ crammed or crowded by as many as 7 other bodies sprawled any which way but orderly and consuming every available square inch of the bed.
I remember so vividly, years ago, when I first started traveling overnight, how much I looked forward with anticipation to that first night away – my chance to sprawl in imitation of my children – to sleep diagonally if I so desired – to use the blanket and sheet however I pleased – to sleep the deep sleep of the quiet and undisturbed â€“ to wake up refreshed from a deep sleep for the first time in many years. That simply wasn’t my experience.
I lay there, eyes closed but unable to sleep, and I couldn’t understand why. There were no bodies crowding me to the edge – no kicks to my unprotected kidneys or eyes – no incessant snoring or muttering or additional body heat in the summer. It was peaceful – and I couldn’t sleep – at least not until about 4AM, and then for only two hours until the alarm shattered the shallow, fitful sleep I had not enjoyed. This lasted each time I traveled for about a month; then one night I discovered the solution: PILLOWS!
One night, in the middle of my sleep-deprived state, I had an epiphany – truly, I believe, inspiration from someone who took pity on my plight. I missed my ridiculously cluttered and cramped nights. I missed those toes in my nose – those knees in my back – the hair in my eyes whenever they opened. Most of all, I missed the sense of peace and contentment that came amid my chosen chaos. Quietude and solitude, I discovered, are not all theyâ€™re cracked up to be – at least not when fulfillment has been defined and wrapped up in noise and family for years. So, I asked for seven extra pillows, packed them around me on the bed (cramming myself into a small space within their embrace) and slept like a baby – at least like a baby whom others apparently have who sleeps through the night without a sound.
I tell you all of that to tell you this: The past few weeks, my wife has returned to work – since our youngest child started school this fall. She (my wife) has been working overnight a couple of nights each week, taking care of the elderly – and spending those nights away from me. It has not been easy, and I have found myself up late, falling asleep on the couch – even as our three youngest children lie sleeping in our bed upstairs.
I learned years ago that I like to have my children around me – even as I sleep. I learned this last couple of weeks that such a situation is not enough – that to be wholly happy and completely content my wife needs to be there, as well. I can sleep soundly with her by my side, with or without the children around us; I cannot sleep soundly without her there, even when they are crowded around me. I love my children with all my heart, but they are no substitute for my soul-mate – my split-apart – the other half of the whole I hope to be throughout eternity.
I tell you all of that to tell you this: I truly am blessed, and I recognize now â€“ a little more than ever before â€“ just how grateful I am and should be. I know many people who are not blessed in this way â€“ who never marry, who are divorced or widowed or abused or living in un-fulfilling relationships â€“ who sleep alone for many unplanned years or lengthy separations â€“ who want to live the standards of the Gospel of Jesus Christ but must subdue inclinations that would bring companionship in this life in order to do so. I understand how relatively painless my learning of this lesson has been. After feeling a small portion of what many live with day in and day out, I am much less inclined to judge them for the choices they make â€“ and much more in awe of those who remain faithful to the difficult ideal required for temple attendance.
Eternal marriage and family mean just a little more to me at this moment, since I have caught a tiny glimpse of isolated immortality, living as half the whole she and I are meant to be. If I canâ€™t handle each night we are apart, I canâ€™t fathom living endlessly without her â€“ feeling alone in a vast cosmos â€“ sleeping in a great and spacious hotel â€“ forever, fitfully alone. I want to live on with my arm around her â€“ in a universe surrounded by our children â€“ even if that means I only get a little edge of it as my own and never get enough sleep.