When a problem seems unsolvable, common advice is to sleep on it. Rest, let your unconscious brain wrestle it a bit. Or rest, and take a break from thinking about it. If you don’t have a solution in the morning, at least you’ll have fresh energy.
I never doubt this advice because once, it worked for me in the most extraordinary way. Asleep, I learned a new way of walking.
I was young, maybe 6 or 7 (so only a half-decade of two-footed experience under my tiny belt), and I had an obstacle I just couldn’t overcome. It was a lane half a block away from our apartment, before the neighboring apartment on the corner where the road turned left. It sloped down, towards the street. And in the winter, all winter, without fail, it was a veritable slip ‘n slide.
Crossing this lane, I would slide down down down into the street, into the path of future cars careening around the corner. To the left was a fence, to the right was a road. There was no other way. To get anywhere, I needed to cross this icy slope.
Mostly I’d just fall down and crawl dejectedly to the other side. But falling was less scary than sliding into the street with my arms flailing like a confused bird, landing flat on my back, staring up at the snowflakes and hoping for no cars. So I started to fake-fall – forward, onto my knees – sparing myself the suspense, since I was going to end up on the ground anyway.
I seriously considered just going down on my hands and knees and crawling across, but I wasn’t 4 anymore. I had some dignity. I’d just fake-fall and roll until one day I figured it out.
I wasn’t a particularly clumsy child, or unfamiliar with ice. I’d skate on the river and on rinks, but that ice was level. This was an icy hill interrupting a prairie sidewalk. And I wasn’t wearing skates.
When I wasn’t facing the lane, it didn’t vex me. I wouldn’t even think about it when leaving the apartment, and then I’d look up over my scarf and remember that I couldn’t quite take walking for granted yet. Then I’d be past it and I’d forget, like the edge of the carpet that you trip over twenty times before bending down to smooth it out, promising yourself safe passage through the room.
One night, as I slept, I found myself dreaming about the lane. I was walking up to it, preparing to “fall”, and then I heard a voice from both inside and outside of my mind – Walk like there’s no ground under you.
I took one step onto the lane, but didn’t plant the foot. I pretended there wasn’t any ground under it. What there was instead of ground, I don’t know, but I put the other foot out and down onto what I believed to be nothing, and over again until I was across the lane. Upright. I felt so proud, and then I woke up.
I knew the difference between dreams and waking life, but I couldn’t imagine that my dream-skills wouldn’t transfer to real-life walking. That day, I approached the lane without fear, knowing I’d been practicing all night.
For the first time in my (waking) life, I walked like there was no ground under me, and I crossed the lane in a straight line, upright, like a true two-footed person. My dream came true, and has served me well to this day.