Isn’t life strange?

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Yes, indeed. The Moody Blues were asking the right question way back when. Isn’t life strange? No stranger than it has been for some time now, but maybe we need to think of something else for a while. One could point out the rather ironic and strange fact that, in these odd times, banks now welcome people who enter their premises wearing masks. Jesse James or Bonnie and Clyde might wonder at that.

The Quebec Government caused not a little controversy and bad feeling when they banned some women from wearing face coverings, and now they’re telling everyone to wear them! Maybe it’s only frowned on when they are worn for religious reasons? Yes, life is strange and throws up some interesting situations.

I tend to think about these things while trying to sleep at night. Some wise man said to me recently that it is not a matter that older people need less sleep, it’s that they can’t actually get to sleep. I’m sure that most of the readers of this newspaper would agree that one of the most satisfying and comforting moments in life is when you finally roll over and fall asleep. Leaving the day behind and curling into the cocoon of bed sheets or duvet must rank as one of life’s joys.

You may lie straight, you may curl up, you may lie of your back, or have a favourite side to turn on: it matters not. You are letting go of the slings and arrows, the daily grind and duties, and letting yourself drift into peace and rest.

That is, of course, if you can actually fall asleep at that point. I tend to start thinking, and I have a brain that won’t shut up! It may take some time, as I lie there thinking about the work I have to do, whatever proj- ect I’m working on, or the extremely irritating snatch of a song that won’t stop infiltrating my drift to sleep. Then, as my mind starts to wander, and I approach that moment of unconsciousness, my peabrain takes note and says: look! You’re falling asleep! This, of course, puts all dreamy developments to flight, and I’m back singing that stupid song over and over.

I am now in the middle of my seventh decade, and you would think I would have this all figured out by now: little tricks and subtle moves to get my mind in a soporific state. But no, counting sheep leads to a discussion of wool and meat markets, or an examination of the countryside through which the sheep are passing. Listening to soothing music only encourages me to listen more attentively. My wife uses audio books to fall asleep: I just stay awake, listening to the story.

Then, when sleep has finally knitted up the raveled sleeve of care (in my case, dropping a few stitches), I find I have to make a trip to the washroom, and the whole darn things starts again. So, it becomes necessary to make use of those sleepless hours. And so, I find myself thinking about walking into a bank with a mask on. Or, in the good times, I begin to see links in what I’m writing, ideas for research and insights into the deep things of life. Of course, when I wake up, all of the brilliant insights have either completely vanished, or don’t seem as brilliant in the cold light of day.

There’s another aspect to all of this that gives me pause. Just how much time we spend sleeping, or trying to, is remarkable. They say the average person spends eight hours asleep – that’s a third of your life. Average is, however, a deceptive term. Babies, in my extensive experience, sleep a great deal less than eight hours. Coincidentally, new parents also manage a lot less sleep than the average.

The average teenager sleeps far more than eight hours, but not necessarily at night. I have grandchildren who often sleep until noon when it isn’t a school day. That’s yet another interesting aspect of this whole sleep issue: we all have our own circadian rhythm, that internal system that tells us when to sleep and when to wake. I have believed for many years that my own personal circadian rhythm has no sense of rhythm at all. Play it a good tune, and it would probably start dancing like some poor fool who stuck their finger in an electric socket. Rhythm? I scoff at the very suggestion.

Sleep can do great things, of course. Paul McCartney woke up one morning with the melody for “Yesterday” complete in his head, with no idea where it came from. Likewise, the riff for “Satisfaction” came to Keith Richards in the middle of the night. He woke up and played it into a tape recorder before falling back asleep.

In my case, I was lying wide awake around 2am one morning, wondering what I was going to write as an Editorial in the next week’s Times, and all sorts of weird ideas were going through my brain as I began to doze off again. They were so strange, in fact, that I had the thought: “Isn’t life strange?”

Perhaps, I thought, I should write an article with that very title. After all, all of my Editorials have titles that are also song titles, so it would make sense to use the title of a Moody Blues song for the next one. I thought about the lyric to that song: “Isn’t life strange? A turn of the page can read like before. Can we ask for more?” And, in the quasi-delirium of the half-waking brain at 2am, I thought: Yes, indeed. The Moody Blues were asking the right question way back when. Isn’t life strange?

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