Biochemically, psychologically, and spiritually, each one of us has to make our own peace with sleep. But why the epidemic of sleeplessness? Is unrest merely your or my personal problem? Or is it a pervasive societal symptom?

Is there something about our world that keeps us up at night? I wonder.

As the leading civilization of the last century, America ruled. But as Shakespeare said, “uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.”

That’s why any American with any sense of responsibility must in some sense carry the weight of the world.

When we look in the mirror that the world reflects back to us, the world we helped to create during this epoch of our leadership, we see the earth’s tumult cruelly ravaging helpless people, people in a land so poor it lacks protective infrastructures, people without so much as a post to secure their fragile house to the hillside so that it isn’t taken off by an ill wind.

How indeed can we Americans sleep at night, when at some level, we must all know that we had the world at our command, and that bit by bit we divested that treasure for widgets, entertainment, oversized bank accounts, and the right to eternal self-preoccupation?

Growing up in affluent, insulated post-war America–untouched by want, unthreatened by war, I never could have imagined that my comforts and way of life had ill prepared me to wake up one day to face a world of crisis, the world that insulated Americans like me now find ourselves in.

In the world as it is now, there is too much to do every single hour and every single day to save the planet, to care for those suffering, not to mention peddle hard just to stay in place.

As an American, endowed with that vast American opportunity to self-recreate into perpetuity, even as we rush to serve a need, promote a worthy cause, or merely put food on the family table, even in service, Americans self-promote to stay afloat. It’s just bred into us.

Yet even in this land of plenty, I always professed Zen but hoarded glass jars, as if my parent’s Depression experience haunted and hinted that it could all melt away and come that day, I’d be happy that I already owned enough shoes, jars of mustard, and canisters of tea to last me until dotage.

“No rest for the weary,” my father used to say.

My generation approaching retirement age may never retire. How can we when there’s too much to do? Retirement savings shrunk. A world on the brink. We’re skilled and in position to do something. Or at least our very best.

If you believe that climate change is real, how easy is it to shift from saving the world to sleeping at night at nine p.m., at eleven p.m., ever…?

Once you’ve woken from the dream that the wonders of science can conquer all to the reality that health care and food systems happily profit the few from the ill health of the many, how easy is it to go back to sleep — with or without melatonin?

During waking hours, all around us business as usual proceeds, endlessly streaming today’s entries in the product/information/news/ wisdom parade. Apps substitute for reality when a cell phone purports to prevent cancer if you select brightly colored virtual birthday cakes for your friends.

Yet in the face of all of this, we must aim for upliftment, feigning confidence that working together shoulder to shoulder, a dedicated few of us can turn this around.

A cascade of high minded sayings, and repeated doses of health tips will support us in these endeavors, but once the professional mask is put aside, the computer is put to sleep, the cell powered down, the makeup cleansed away, and the lights turned off, in the darkness, the person lying there silently wonders where will all of this really leads…? The greater the daytime exertions, the deeper the night time doubts.

Has the fact that I’ve given a donation, checked off my to-do list, made a few hearts happier or wiser, laughed with a loved one, shared my craft, gotten exercise, or survived another day really made a difference? Beyond the numbers of my blog comments, twitter followers, or investment holdings, who am I? Do my hundreds of Facebook friends know the real me?

And does my individual awareness matter all that much when an earth in tumult can wipe out a country in a minute?

How can I sleep when so many don’t know that we are all connected?
How can I sleep when I don’t always act as though we are all connected?
How can I sleep until everyone’s awake?

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Copyright, 2010, Alison Rose Levy. All rights reserved.

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