239 Days in America

A Social Media Documentary following 'Abdu'l-Bahá in 1912

June 13, 1912
new york, ny
Storify Feature

I Was Tired So I Slept

FRANK SINATRA SANG that he wanted to “Wake up in the city that doesn’t sleep.” He meant New York. But, on June 13, 1912, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá just wanted to sleep.

“I was tired so I slept,” he said, after resting briefly in the middle of the afternoon. It had been another busy day at his residence in Manhattan. Several prominent ministers had called to converse, drink tea, and invite him to speak at their churches. As usual, the front door had opened to visitors at 7:30 a.m. and would remain so until midnight, when ‘Abdu’l-Bahá would often start attending to his correspondence.

He frequently survived on less than three hours sleep. In fact, throughout his life, sleep had often been something of a luxury.

When Bahá’u’lláh’s family was under house arrest in Adrianople, it had been the squealing of the rats that kept them awake. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá would light bright lamps to keep the vermin away, but then the light would make it hard to sleep. Sleep was always hard won by the prisoners of the Ottoman Empire.

The family’s banishment eventually landed them in Constantinople, the empire’s capital, in 1863. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was nineteen, and saw himself as his father’s chief protector. He rode alongside Bahá’u’lláh’s wagon on a temperamental Arab stallion, taming it with his expert horsemanship. The horse became his partner in sleep. They would often gallop across the desert wastes of Iraq, far ahead of the exiles’ caravans, and dismount. Then they would lie down together and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá would rest his head on the animal’s neck and sleep. When the party approached, the horse would awaken ‘Abdu’l-Bahá with a kick and they would resume.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá honed his capacity to seize moments of rest under difficult circumstances. Toward the end of Bahá’u’lláh’s life, although still technically a prisoner, he had been allowed to move to a private house at Bahji, outside the prison city of ‘Akká, in 1879. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá chose to remain in the city to attend to the exiled community’s affairs, but he would walk to Bahji regularly, on foot and often in oppressive heat. If he got tired, he would simply lie on the ground and sleep, setting his head on a nearby stone.

People asked him why he didn’t travel on horseback anymore; “How can I come to my Lord riding?” he would answer. “When Christ went out he walked, and slept in the fields. Who am I, that in visiting my Lord I should go as greater than Christ?”

In New York on June 13, 1912, in the City that Never Sleeps, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá found himself with a bed, a pillow, a quilt, and a mattress with springs. So he slept.

In tomorrow’s feature, the third in a series of three looking at ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s youth.


  • Toby Epyeru

    This is an excellent posting sharing such intimate details that cannot fail to endear one to the Master.

  • Marilyn

    Thank YOu! I am so inspired by this article.  I have a physical ailment and just wants to get out and lie on the grass.  i can almost feel the gravity. 

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003295938534 Rob Sockett

      Marilyn — I was surprised (perhaps delighted is a better word) to read that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá regularly went to the park in the afternoon and lay down on the grass. He said it allowed his mind to rest. But I suppose there are many ways to put our minds at ease. I’m glad his “hard won” rest inspired you.

  • William Maxwell

    These short vignettes masterfully bring into focus that century’s most remarkable life.  Thank you.

    William Maxwell

    • Dr Donald Francis Addison

      Thank you William—when I was just 17 or 18 years old, and I became a Baha’i, I “discovered” your many pictures teaching the Baha’i Faith especially in korea, then another time in Vietnam. You must have raised up over a million Baha’is (with Baha’u’lah’s help of course). I’m so happy to see you here,I TOTALLY LOVE YOUR VALUABLE BAHA’I BOOKS YOU’VE WRITTEN. I hope you are healthy and I pray you are blessed by God. I’m a Choctaw Indian mixed-blood, one of the first in my tribe to become a Baha’i—-51 years ago.I”m almost 70 and I still get to teach all the classes I like at the Univ of Oregon and Lane Comm College. much love to you and your family,  Dr Don Addison, Eugene, Oregon

  • Linasmithson

    Enjoying such well written details?,

  • Jo-Anne Koirala

    So many moving glimpses into the life of ‘Abdu’l-Baha. Unforgettable! Deep appreciation for the researchers and writers of these precious stories.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003295938534 Rob Sockett

      Thanks Jo-Anne. This article was written by one of our new writers, Annabel Knight. I’ll pass along your appreciation to everyone.

  • Kate Toussaint

    thank you so much for this.  I read it every day.  it is a gift.  for a very special year.  thank you.  Kate Toussaint

  • Karridine

    In those few moments where, on looking back, I have thought I just MIGHT be ‘living the life’, they have almost without exception been moments where I had had enough sleep to physically rise again, but not enough to ‘run my stuff’, absolutely no energy to give to complaining, whining, griping, putting off until later, or any other actions often aided and abetted by 6 hours’ sleep.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003295938534 Rob Sockett

    Is no one going to mention that we somehow squeezed Frank Sinatra and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá into the same article? It wasn’t easy!  🙂  

  • Ardy

    This guy has got to be the most productive guy in the whole world! Can other people survive off of that much sleep? They say 8 hours is the recommended, so maybe he distributes the hours through rest times? But then I also read somewhere that the amount one sleeps is not as important as the quality of sleep… Someone should really get into the science of sleeping. Abdul Baha definitley inspires me to wake up earlier in the morning and get work done!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Pascal-Molineaux/1203381202 Pascal Molineaux

    No doubt a well deserved sleep if there ever was one! Again, we see how ‘Abdu’l-Bahá gave His all in service to His beloved Father and fellow human beings.  Tireless, He served, from dawn to dusk, with no thought for Himself and no worry but to promote His Father’s Teachings.  Thankyou for sharing such moving details of His life.

  • Bahaiwoman99

    I can relate easily to the fervent desire felt by Abdu’l-Baha to serve.  When I Pioneered in Nepal last year sleep was also infreguent, but the desire to serve my Lord kept me happily filled with frevor and action.  A short nap can rejuvinate the body well.

  • Dr Donald Francis Addison

    I really really love this site–and I love your pictures. Most of all I adore the words and stories of Abdu’l-Baha’ when He visited the USA1912. I love what you are doing. I’m an American Indian avid Baha’i, I accepted the Faith when I was 18 years old, when I was a senior in South Eugene High School. John Newport told me about Baha’u’llah. Please keep posting all these inspiring pictures and comments . much love to you all, Dr Donald Francis Addison, professor of anthropology and world music (ethnomusicology).