Have you ever encountered someone walking in their sleep?
My first experience came in college. I was up late studying for a midterm and went to the restroom. As I walked through the door, I saw a guy from down the hall standing in the middle of the room with a far-away look in his eyes. I thought he might be sick, or maybe something was wrong. I called his name and he didn’t respond. I touched his arm and he blinked a few times and recognized me. He told me that sometimes he walked in his sleep during stressful times. He asked me to wake him if I ever saw him sleepwalking again.
I’ve thought about that moment over the years. Aren’t we all sleepwalkers? Don’t we sleepwalk through life much of the time?
Think of how we live each day. Turn off the alarm. Shower. Eat. Go to work to make money to pay the bills. Go home. Eat again. Pay the bills. Watch television. Go to sleep. Do it all again. Keep shuffling along a course chosen by someone else.
It’s quite understandable. Life is so big and grand; our routines shrink it down to something small and manageable. But we pay a price. Our lives become so numbingly small. We miss out on so much.
Of course, we get a lot of encouragement to sleepwalk. We hear voices telling us to put one foot in front of another and continue on our unconscious path. Commercials persuade us that we’ll be happy and fulfilled if only we buy their gizmos and gadgets. Use them as you shuffle along in your life, putting one foot in front of the other. Don’t stop to wonder if there’s more to life than the gizmos.
We even turn religion into a sleeping pill. Go to our place of worship. Hear words about love and compassion and forgiveness and inclusion and social justice that could inspire us if we actually took them seriously. Don’t think about them too much. Instead, leave our place of worship and go back to living pretty much the way our society dictates. Keep the status quo intact.
And then, there are those wonderful moments of grace that we all experience, the ones that serve as a wake-up call.
We look up at the sky on a clear, starry night and begin to marvel at the miracle of it all, how small and humble we are in such a big universe. We see an act of kindness or courage and marvel at the miracle of us. We love someone and it pulls us out of our self-centeredness, challenges us to be so much more than just a me.
Maybe one of those moments comes when we’re walking down a street and we catch the eye of a homeless person, recognize the pain in their face and wonder what we can do to help. We begin to consider why so many people are pushed into poverty in a society with so much. We begin to pay attention to what’s happening to others.
Or we have one of those increasingly common days when a disturbed person walks into a school building, an office, a military base, a shopping mall, a movie theater _ anywhere, really _ and another massacre occurs. And we’re snapped out of our sleepiness and we start to wonder: What kind of society accepts this as its norm? How do we change this? How do we change us?
Those moments shake us and stir us. And when they do, the voices of the status quo try to tell us: Now is not the time to think about these things. Everything is fine. Nothing needs to change. Go back to sleepwalking through your life.
If we can ignore those voices, we’ll hear another voice, the one of Someone who is gently touching our arm and saying, “Hey, wake up! You‘re walking aimlessly through life. You can be so much more! And it’s not just what you’re missing — your world needs you.