A Place, between Sleep and Awake

“Strange Sleep Hands” by James Blann is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

About the magic of a fleeting, daily moment.

We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
– William Shakespeare, The Tempest Act 4, scene 1, 148–158

There is a moment, at night, when darkness has worn itself out and dawn is about to break. When colors are pale and sounds muted and soft. A moment that belongs to poets and painters, and perhaps the birds, for in it even the night watchmen have gone to bed, and not even the bakers have yet left it.

The bed itself is perfectly warm. The covers, perfectly tucked around toes and ears. A pink and timid nose peeks out to face the perfectly crisp air. All other acts of bravado are on hold, in this moment too late for last night, too early for today.

A perfect, fleeting moment. A perfectly fleeting moment. devoid of thought or emotion. Devoid of time itself, it is almost a place. A place “between sleep and awake, where you still remember dreaming.” And beyond which nothing else exists.

Here grief forgets to groan, and love to weep,
Ev’n superstition loses ev’ry fear:
For God, not man, absolves our frailties here.
– Alexander Pope, Eloisa to Abelaid

It does not last of course; the world begins to fidget. The gardeners and first train drivers, the lunch packing mothers and life hungry toddlers. The surgeons and nurses, the runners and dog walkers. The flight takers, the presentation givers, the coffee brewers and drinkers. Soon enough the moment is gone, “the world forgetting, by the world forgot.” Colors turn bright, noises loud, and we are awake.

“Awake” is not a pleasant state. In it the day unfolds, littered with morning headlines overheard in traffic jams, noon deadlines remembered at one. Predictions are proven failed, decisions are proven wrong in the wear and tear of the day’s responsibilities, disappointments, and by the time the sun sets, its regrets.

Awake is a heavy state. We can only take a day of it at a time.

So out of covers we build fortresses and tents, and out of wooden shoes, ships. Eyes closed, so no one can see us, we sail off “on a river of crystal light,” to that place between sleep and awake.

There, we do not remember what to regret, we do not know yet what to dread. Our guess about how tomorrow, and life, will unfold, is as good as any. We smile, like children, in our sleep.

Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each pray’r accepted, and each wish resign’d.

No parameters, conditions, or rules. No clouds or shadows in spotless minds.

Soon, again, it will be time to wake, and we will face reality. The consequences of past mistakes, the stomach churn of coming winters. But for now let us stay a little longer in this moment devoid of time and emotion, and I will paint you a picture of this place behind closed eyes, between sleep and awake.

There are fields and fields of flowers, […] fields and fields of lilies–and when the soft wind blows over them it wafts the scent of them into the air–and everybody always breathes it, because the soft wind is always blowing. And little children run about in the lily fields and gather armfuls of them, and laugh and make little wreaths. And the streets are shining. And people are never tired, however far they walk.’
Frances Hodgson Burnett

And since we are bound to forget it anyway, in this place let us be who we want to be. Let us be knights and princesses, astronauts and fishermen, explorers and magicians, spies and inventors. Let us have magic powers, let us know how to fly. Make hot cocoa from fountains, animal crackers from clouds. Let us never be hungry, never be cold. Let us be young and happy and in love. Let us be two people holding hands on the couch.

For a perfect, fleeting moment, let us be dreamers, who “can only find their way by moonlight, and their punishment is that they see the dawn before the rest of the world.”1

Then the world will fidget, and we can try the day again.

‘Twas all so pretty a sail, it seemed
As if it could not be;
And some folk thought ‘twas a dream they’d dreamed
Of sailing that beautiful sea;
Eugene Field, Wynken Blynken and Nod


  1. The original quote by Oscar Wilde reads as follows: ‘For a dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.’ 

Filed under Sleep
Yara Y. Zgheib

Yara is a bookworm, writer, and passionate consumer of wine and chocolate. Born in Beirut, she has lived in Glasgow, Washington, Paris, and Saint Louis, and is not done traveling yet. She is a Fulbright scholar with a PhD in international affairs, who has also taught art history in the US, ballet in China, and etiquette in France. Yara is the author of “Biography of a Little Prince”, a memoir of her adventures with a little boy dear to her heart. Her blog, “Aristotle at Afternoon Tea”, is a compilation of weekly essays on politics, art, culture, economics, literature, and philosophy. Her idea of a smart conversation over afternoon tea, and she loves company.