the noonday demon
Sometimes you just need a nap.
Which is apparently what I needed last weekend. After a long week and a late-night campus event on Friday, Dan and I had planned an unhurried Saturday breakfast, the slow sort of breakfast that we rarely make time for (although no one’s complaining about our usual toast or granola), a breakfast both savory and sweet, half eggs and bacon, half pancakes and syrup. I imagined a sunny Saturday, spacious and easy. No plans, except for breakfast. A day of rest and relief, a day of joy and peace.
Well, we made the breakfast—these heavenly, soft-scrambled eggs (watch the video; you won’t regret it), a strip of bacon apiece (all we had!), and banana chocolate chip pancakes, and then the day started to bear down on me. We proposed a few ways to spend the rest of our day, but I couldn’t handle them. Every idea seemed terrible, not what I wanted. They were perfectly reasonable ways to spend a Saturday, but I couldn’t manage to imagine them into my day. I cried. I was incapable of movement, decision, maturity. Everything was impossible.
I told Dan I was going back to bed. Maybe I could restart my day. I didn’t really believe it would work, but what else could I do? Sit at the table while my sweet husband cleaned up the kitchen and tolerated weepy me? Drag myself into some Saturday project that would almost certainly end worse than it began, which was already bad enough? Take a shower? Not yet—I wanted to go for a run first, though I hadn’t the energy.
So back to bed I went. Back to our new bed, I should add, a thick, pillowy, dreamy affair whose mere existence beckons. It’s hard to stay out of.
Swaddled in down, I tried reading for a while. I’m midway through Kathleen Norris’s The Cloister Walk in preparation for her visit to Holland in March. Much of the book has resonated with me, but on Saturday, my eyes themselves glum, I found it hard to concentrate. I closed the book, rolled over, and let sleep carry me.
A hour or two later, I woke again. The sun was brilliant, filling the room with clean, happy light. Believing I should be refreshed, but feeling as listless as ever, I lay there. I couldn’t make myself move. I started to wonder—not worry, just wonder—if I was showing signs of depression: wanting to cocoon myself in bed, being unable to summon energy though the day itself was bright and sunny, feeling battered by merely the possibility of activity.
Kathleen Norris speaks of something like this feeling in The Cloister Walk. The feeling of interminable, insufferable days, the weight of malaise, the paralysis of mind and body. Following the monastic tradition, she calls it the noonday demon. It appears at midday, in that harsh, direct light, and oppresses with lethargy. Acedia.
I turned over the possibility of acedia in my mind. Could it be? It wasn’t depression exactly. I hadn’t felt a full six weeks of low spirits, the measurement offered by the anti-depressant commercials on TV. But that one day! It was heavy, too heavy to endure. And it was long, too long to bear. It was noon, and the demon had come.
I rolled back over to sleep.
A while later and I woke for a third time on that single day. The room, though bright, was too cold for me to leave the bed yet. I burrowed deeper into the covers. I still didn’t have much energy to read, though I tried. I coasted—that word that my grandma uses for the half-hearted drifting, the in and out from wake and sleep.
Somewhere in that swelling and ebbing, the thought may have come to me that though the noonday demon is real and powerful, it should not be coddled. I might not have the resolve to banish it entirely, but I didn’t want to welcome it, either. It was within my power to ask it to step aside. I thought I should probably go for a run. Running wasn’t what I wanted to do at the moment, but I knew that it would help push the demon from the living room to the entryway, and maybe eventually out the door. So I rolled, this time, out of bed, slipped into running clothes, and padded downstairs.
Dan, reading on the couch, greeted me. His voice had kindness in it, something I didn’t expect from someone whose wife had spent the morning grumpy and the afternoon asleep. I told him I was going for a run. He agreed that was a good thing. I tied my shoes and left the house.
The run didn’t need to be long to work its magic. A few blocks in, and the demon was on its way out. Maybe it was the physical movement, maybe it was the Romans 12 I recited as I ran, maybe it was nothing more than the fresh air.
When I arrived back at the house, I was eager to let Saturday be what it would. It may have been 4:00pm, but I was ready to start the day. In the exact opposite mood from the morning, I kissed Dan, showered and dressed, and then suggested we take cribbage to Lemonjello’s.
Strangely light, we practically floated there, ordered our drinks (free with our full punchcards!), spotted a table, and set up shop. After one hand of cribbage, our friend Ben came over and kept us company, entertaining us with his wit and running commentary. (We love you, Ben.)
We ended the day with stuffed shells, an episode of the West Wing, and the first half of Risk, a game whose length would’ve horrifed me 12 hours earlier but now excited me. I hadn’t played since fourth grade.
I want to say something profound about Saturday. I want to say it signaled a deep darkness in me that needed to be exposed and addressed. I want to say I overcame the demon. I want to make meaning from it.
But I honestly have no idea. I have no idea what Saturday was. It was odd and disconcerting, but also hopeful. There was a demon, but it didn’t linger. Maybe I did just need a nap. Maybe winter has been too long and blinding stark. Maybe our bed has mystical powers. Who knows.
I do know that Dan deserves a thousand thank-yous for his grace and patience, and that demons aren’t exorcised by the strength of the person they inhabit but by the power of community—in my case, unwitting Kathleen, Dan who promises to love and to cherish, and hilarious Ben. We have one body but many members, and not all the members serve the same function. So we, who are many, are one body in Christ and individually are members one of another. Thank you, members.