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Around the Kitchen Table

Donald Ward


You can only say so many rosaries. My record is five in a row, one after the other. I can imagine Mary saying to one of the angels, “It’s Ward again. He’s trying to get to sleep.”

“Can’t you just put him to sleep?” asks the angel.

“I could,” says Mary, “But that’s not the point. You’re supposed to be attentive during the rosary, meditating on the mysteries. Half the time Ward doesn’t even know what mystery he’s on.”

Then there’s the Jesus prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” I’ve recited a good few hundred of those as well, trying to get to sleep, but I find my mind making up little tunes for each line, which is distracting, and I can only imagine what Jesus is thinking, if he’s still listening by that time.

I once counted backward from 500 to one, telling myself with each breath that I would fall asleep at one. I didn’t.

Insomnia manifests itself in many ways, but basically it comes down to the inability to sleep — to fall asleep, to stay asleep, to sleep restfully or deeply. Google “sleep disorders” and you get over 21 million hits. Google “insomnia” and you get nearly 55 million, so it’s not rare. According to one source, some 40 million Americans suffer from it, and we can assume that a comparable number of Canadians do as well.

I envy people who can fall asleep the minute their head touches the pillow. My wife, Colleen, can lie down and go to sleep whenever the fancy takes her. Mind you, she is suffering from a brain injury, and they are notoriously exhausting. But even before her aneurysm, I can remember only one night of all our married life together when she had trouble sleeping. It is a gift.

On the upside, you can get an awful of reading done when you’re not sleeping. My bedside library is teetering with books that have I finished reading in the middle of the night. I prefer mystery novels, though I occasionally resort to the classics. I finished two one night before giving up and getting out of bed.

They say that if you can’t sleep you should get up and do something, otherwise your body will come to equate being in bed with not sleeping. My body made that connection long ago. Still, I often get up in the night and cruise the Internet. Ear buds ensure that I don’t disturb the rest of the family.

I enjoy watching cooking shows. Back in the ‘80s there was a flamboyant chef called the Frugal Gourmet, whose weekly half-hour presentations are now available on YouTube. Jeff Smith, his name was. He had a degree in philosophy and sociology, and was an ordained minister in the United Methodist Church. His TV program ran for a total of 261 episodes, though only a fraction of those are available on YouTube. I have watched each of them at least twice.

He was once criticized for being neither frugal nor a gourmet. His response was that being frugal didn’t mean that you were cheap or only cooked with inexpensive ingredients, but that you threw nothing away. Following this philosophy has sometimes made me want to gag — such as when he prepared pig’s intestines — but still, he always makes me smile.

Smith fell from grace when seven men charged him with sexual abuse. Six of them claimed he abused them as teenagers in the 1970s; the seventh claimed to have been abused by Smith when he picked him up as a hitchhiker. Formal charges were never brought, as Smith settled the cases through his insurance company, but the allegations were enough to end his television career.

He died in 2004, yet he still goes on — at two and three and four o’clock in the morning. Perhaps his sins have been forgiven. Perhaps mine will be, too. In the meantime, I read and watch the Internet and I pray, waiting for blessed sleep. Whatever happens, all this prayer can’t be bad for me.