Friday, February 1, 2013

Goodnight Moon (and goodnight Victor Hugo and Ralph Waldo Emerson)

When you have laboriously accomplished your daily tasks, go to sleep in peace. God is awake. 
- Victor Hugo

I’m not sure when I first read this quotation – I don’t think it was more than about six months ago – but it’s one of those quotations that made less of an impression on me upon first reading than it has in the time since with its sticking power. I didn’t dwell on it or commit it to memory when I first came across it, but recently I think of it almost every night as I get ready to go to bed. It reminds me of the sense of serenity from acknowledging that the day is done and it is time for closure on all that the day involved.

Sometimes, too, I find myself thinking about the other ways that this idea has been expressed in the common vernacular. I think of taps: “Day is done. Gone the sun. ….All is well, safely rest, God is nigh.” And I think of Goodnight Moon, when I’m shutting down my computer, only I like to rephrase it as “Goodnight email. Goodnight calendar. Goodnight Facebook friends everywhere.”

All of these examples convey the same idea: there is a time to acknowledge that the day’s work is done. In the past, I’ve so often found it easier to rebuke myself for all that didn’t get done as the day ends than to accept it. Housework left incomplete. Interviews for the following day that I haven’t prepared for all that well. Emails I haven’t yet returned. Errands I’m procrastinating on for yet another day.

And it’s so easy to get entrenched in these negative thoughts of what didn’t happen that you overlook what did: another day brought to an ultimately successful conclusion.

But somehow these words make it easier for me. Goodnight to this day, I tell myself now with Victor Hugo’s lines in mind. I’ve done what I can and it’s someone else’s turn to keep watch now that it’s nighttime.

But, interestingly, once I decided I wanted to try to write a blog post about this half-remembered quote, I couldn’t recall who wrote it, and I had the idea that it was by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Finally I found it, and saw that it was not Emerson but Hugo, but then realized there was another Emerson quote with which I was confusing it:

Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities have crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.

Emerson, Unitarian minister that he is, doesn’t bring God into it; he simply gives us the responsibility for finding closure on the day ourselves. Never mind God keeping watch, Emerson seems to say; the point is still that your work is done and you are ready to begin again tomorrow.

I like both quotes. I like the text of Goodnight Moon too. I like the idea that it is all right to just walk away from undone or half-done tasks at the end of the day. Because as both writers say, there’s time enough tomorrow to try it all again.


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