27 February 2014

driving in my sleep with Elizabeth Bowen

As much as I tried I could not finish the short story I was reading last night. Too tired. It was a beautiful story by Elizabeth Bowen, the magnificent Elizabeth Bowen who wrote Last September. And of course, Bowen's Court, long since knocked down.
The story opens with a woman driving along a country road on a summer's evening, the sun is setting and shadows are slowly covering the distant hills. And of course I was searching for clues and names and eventually placed her on a road coming down from the Galtee Mountains driving south towards Fermoy or maybe even Cork. But it was late, too late now and I fell asleep with the beautiful thought that I will continue reading in the morning.

Some time ago I went to this public lecture. Nowadays, public lectures have to have spectacular themes to pull a crowd, what with all the competition and the internet. This one was called: Learning in your sleep. Actually, it transpired that it's not strictly learning that takes place in our brain while we sleep but that our brain apparently stores and develops whatever we have been thinking about just before sleep. In smart science vocabulary, the offline consolidation of memory during sleep represents a principle of long-term memory formation.
So, we are thinking or reading about something just before sleep and if we are lucky, glimpses of it wander from the temporary storage area inside our brain (where, so it seems, most of what we remember gets lost) to the permanent storage space. And during this process the new stuff sticks onto old stuff and lost memories are rekindled and new memories are formed and so on. There is a lot of clever research done, incl. sniffing rose petals and lavender while memorising complicated rows of figures and shapes before going to sleep.

In my dream last night I was 30 again, driving our battered moke up and up the St. Louis Road and into the forest and then downhill with all the sharp bends towards the coast, past the police station, turning left towards the beach where I stopped the car underneath the large Takamaka trees.
I walked into the almost still surf, north-easterly monsoon, hardly any waves. I closed my eyes and pushed myself under water, resurfacing after a long slow dive. Floating with my face down I could see the sharp colours of coral and fish deep deep below me. And I was overwhelmed by the incredible feeling of being carried, supported on this thin line where ocean and sky meet. The sun was about to set. So close to the equator, it sinks at the count of ten. I turned around and watched the sky darken. The trees were full of birds.

I have had the most wonderful life, so far. I have even been to paradise.


  1. This is just so beautiful. Your life has had some beauty in it, hasn't it?
    Thank you for writing it down. I am so glad to have read it.

  2. "And I was overwhelmed by the incredible feeling of being carried, supported on this thin line where ocean and sky meet."

    Oh, yes.

  3. Exquisite wordsmithing! The closest I ever got to the equator was Okinawa. The sunsets were spectacular. Thank you for bringing this all back for me ... perhaps I'll be lucky enough to dream tonight.

    Wishing you sweet dreams!

  4. Thank you for sharing this beautiful dream journey. I was floating floating floating with you on your words.

  5. Hei Sabine,

    I love how you love life. It is beautiful – your love, and life itself.

    I don't know how you feel about the idea of life after death; I cannot say that I would even remain undecided, for that would sound like a decision, a thought-out choice, when my stance really is a not-knowing that I don't do anything at all to. A bit like I will always remain the height that I am – although I may yet shrink, it happens if one gets far enough in time, in one's life. What's more important to me is whether there is and has been life before death, what it has been like. Ours is a gift. It's not up to me to say it is always a gift – what if you're born into abject suffering, from day one, and it never relents? What if you die of hunger before your first birthday? What if? What if? The list is potentially endless – but our is a gift, I feel I can say this on "our" behalf, including you in the "our", based on your words. And, in my view, the correct response to this gift from life itself is to live it.

    This is no great revelation, it is just something that is obvious, but your words made me again feel how that simply is the way it is. Thank you.

    I hope you have the most gift-like Sundays. And thank you for your kind words to me. Sharing in the joys and successes of others, as well as the pains and worries, if at the centre of life and of being human, and it is clear you not only know this but live it.