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The ‘Paradoxology’ of Insomnia

Updated: Mar 14

On the day of my father’s funeral, I walked the dog in the morning moonlight - a weak leftover circle of white that glimmered beyond the trees. Everything felt suspended in time. I couldn’t imagine, couldn’t comprehend the day ahead, but somehow I knew now that it would be ok. I was being held through it all.

I knew. Because, a couple of days beforehand, something had happened.

Two nights earlier, I had battled with sleeplessness, a tetchy biting insomnia that tapped me on the shoulder any time I felt close to rest. I tried to remain calm but as the minutes and hours ticked by, panic set in. I greeted the early hours, 1am, 2am, 3am… and all my logical reasoning could not persuade this angry flare to quieten. How would I cope with the coming days if I had no sleep?

I mustered all my resolve to stop myself dissolving into chaos but a faulty electrical current seemed to be crackling through my veins, my head fizzing like a flickery lightbulb.

By now, sleep was no longer even the main thing. I took a deep breath and tried to make my peace with a full night awake. It wouldn’t matter, if I could just get my body to quieten, if I could just calm my mind. By then, however, I'd moved into some kind of semi-shock, buzzing with the lack of rest, a thousand grasshoppers jumping around my brain.

Finally, failed by all my usual strategies, I gave up. Wandering around the house at gone 3am, I found a few of Dad’s poetry books. Some years back, a friend of his had set some of the poems to music and, on hearing Dad had died, he sent me one with a particularly catchy tune. It was a poem, now a song, called ‘Paradoxology’. I must have read the words at some point in the past, but somehow it hadn’t stayed with me until the music brought it to life. I’d spent the previous few days humming it sporadically. And three o’clock in the morning seemed as good a time as any to try and find it. I struck gold first time, in ‘Aardvarks and Dandelions’ my favourite of Dad’s poetry pamphlets. I read it through and felt soothed by the words, took some deep breaths. Then I glanced over at the poem on the facing page.

At first, I didn’t realise what it was about.

At first, I wasn’t sure if I’d even bother reading it the whole way through.

It was not as succinct or clear as ‘Paradoxology’, not as immediately quirky or pleasing…but let’s face it, I seemed to have plenty of time. So I read on.

I gave a sudden intake of breath as I realised the poem’s theme.

There, at 3am, my mind wired with sleeplessness, I was reading a poem Dad had written, maybe ten years earlier, about… insomnia.

It described everything I’d been thinking and feeling, the struggle, the sheer hand-wrenching desperation for sleep to visit me, the strivings… but then peace.

And, from nowhere – or perhaps from somewhere, I too was overwhelmed with the same peace it described. I went back to bed, no longer caring whether I slept or not because I felt held and loved and looked after. Which of course meant that within minutes I was fast asleep.

I imagined Dad, all those years earlier, laying out pieces of paper, trying to decide on an order for his book.

‘Which poem should I put where? This one here perhaps? Now, what shall we put next to ‘Paradoxology’?’

How could he have known that at 3am one bleak January morning I would go looking for an old poem of his but actually need to read a different one? How could he have known to put it in exactly the right place? He couldn’t, of course, but there it was.

It felt serene and surreal, like God, working through Dad's friend, who sent a song…

...which stayed in my mind and drew my attention to that first catchy, quirky poem…

...which made it something I went to look for in a time of need…

...which led me to the second poem.

Which was exactly what I needed in that moment.

There was something so serendipitous about it. Like being carried safely through a highly charged storm.

Like being held.

Like a father leading a child.


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