The Sunday Afternoon Nap

A most pleasant subsidence

By Brian Doyle | April 3, 2015


To which I write elegy, and celebration, and savory appreciation; for it is a delicious thing, luxurious, snatched from the usual daily burble with a pleasure made all the more enjoyable because it is so rare; sadly, you cannot, in the normal course of things, stretch out on workday afternoons, on your desk, carefully moving aside sheaves of paper and mounds of books and magazines and photographs and testy complaints and lunatic commentary, and nap, with your head resting on a stack of periodicals that you will read just as soon as never.

But the Sunday afternoon nap—that is allowed, permitted, acknowledged as custom and habit and tradition; we will not go so far as to say that it is actively encouraged, but it is privileged, it elicits no disapproval or moaning when you announce quietly that you will be in absentia for the next hour, and you remind your domestic compatriots that all loud noises are now to be terminated, these including and comprising shouting, television, fisticuffs, that thumping screeching vulgar ear-assault you call music, shrieking, whining, bickering, debating, arguing, running in the house, enticing the dog to howl, enticing the dog to chase you roaring excitedly through the house, and/or mowing the lawn, as if any of you had the slightest intention of mowing the lawn anyway.

The beloved battered old cotton blanket that each and every one of the children slept under at various times; the gentle diffused light sifting through the curtains, just enough so that you can tell it is still raining a little, the light having a silvery cast when rain slides through it insistently and thoroughly and inarguably, as it does here eight months of the year. The ancient animal pleasures of being supine, of stretching and yawning, of curling up like a long comma, just as you have curled up in the shape of a parenthesis since before you were born. The lovely idle few minutes of chaotic thought and image as your mind gears down; the long heavy happy sigh that you emit just before you slide into sleep; that same last thought, each and every time, that you can’t fall asleep, you are not that tired, there’s no way you will …

And you awake an hour later—still afternoon, but late afternoon now; the rain has stopped and there’s a shy bronze angle to the stammer of light. And there’s another deep subtle pleasure to the Sunday nap here—a few moments when you are half-awake, but not yet moving; when you hear the house, as it were, muted clatter in the kitchen and faint voices in the street; far away an osprey’s piercing whistle, a thrush’s liquid trill, two crows laughing as they tell dirty jokes about hawks. You stretch again—the alarming but harmless click and crack of joints making you ponder yet again the brawny words ligament and tendon and cartilage. And then finally you arise, and feel gently for your spectacles, and perch them again on the alp of your nose, and shuffle forth toward evening, refreshed and meditative, thinking yet again, for the 100th time, that someone sometime ought to write a small but heartfelt elegy to the Sunday afternoon nap, which is a nap unlike any day’s nap, for it is a blameless nap, a well-earned nap, a nap sparked not by age or illness or weariness, but by a most pleasant subsidence and recession of duty and care, a neap tide as regards things we must and should do; and when such a moment presents itself, it would be mean to refuse the invitation, is that not so? It would be almost arrogant, it would be to tend toward insistence on control and will, in a world so often proven to be unamenable to personal control and force of will; so that we might well view the Sunday nap as a gesture of respect and reverence, of refreshing humility, indeed, finally, of sterling character; or at least we can claim these things, grinning, as we shuffle toward the bedroom, issuing instructions to the domestic compatriots, whom we love dearly, when they are quiet.

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