Last week I stepped into a major airport again for the first time since COVID-19 upended all of our lives. The connecting flight was turbulent. My anxiety level was high. But something caught my eye in a bookstore while navigating to my gate. It was a familiar cover, exactly the same as it would have been some 40 years ago when my mother or father read it to me before putting me to bed for the night – “Goodnight Moon” by Margaret Wise Brown.
Just thinking about how much of a universal experience this book is for generations of children boggles my mind.
As an adult with occasional insomnia, it strikes me how much the soothing words and images of Brown’s book resemble mindfulness meditation. My meditation app tells me to take a moment to be aware of my surroundings; the book starts with “In the great green room, there was a telephone, and a red balloon, and a picture of — the cow jumping over the moon.”
Then, like the “quiet old lady who was whispering ‘hush’” I quiet the racing thoughts in my mind by focusing on the breath, saying in my mind “Goodnight stars, goodnight air, goodnight noises everywhere.”
It probably won’t surprise you that a parody has been written based on the culture we live in now, called “Goodnight iPad.” In this version, Brown’s room full of quiet, soothing objects is replaced with a “bright buzzing room” full of noisy electronic devices calling for our attention. But all the same, we must say goodnight to them one by one.
So what happens to your child when you’re showing them the soothing nighttime images and melodic lyrics of “Goodnight Moon”?
Author and psychoanalyst Ellen Handler Spitz described the effect of the book as “not merely soothing, not simply saccharine. It admits the possibilities of something vaguely sinister and then proceeds to soothe.” In that way, everything described in the book serves to “teach young children that life can be trusted, that life has stability, reliability, and durability.” What a timely and on point message during difficult, chaotic times like what we’ve been through with the pandemic.
It may seem like a lie to tell your child — or yourself — that everything’s okay and it’s going to be OK. There are so many times over the past year and a half where it’s felt like the world is falling apart, that the comfortable stability of, well, anything in our lives is and has been just an illusion.
An app on your phone bleeps —something has happened. Is it important? Did something terrible happen again? Is it the brutal buzz of an amber alert or a weather warning? We are more connected and alerted to everything tragic and scary happening around the world than we ever have been. It can be overwhelming, to a child and even to an adult.
The point isn’t to say, like the dog in the cartoon meme, that “this is fine” when it isn’t. In reality, both the noisy and dangerous “Goodnight iPad” world we live in and the calming stillness of “Goodnight Moon” exist together. As Spitz explains, “Darkness may envelop the world, but love and self endure.”
Like “Goodnight Moon,” the guide on my meditation app reminds me that the place I’ve entered while focusing on my breath has always been there and will continue to be there, no matter what’s going on in my surrounding world. All I have to do is find the calm, stillness of the present.
Jonathan Heath is an administrative assistant at the Montrose Regional Library.