I have been ruminating as of late upon the particular appeal of the early morning as opposed to other times of day. As with many concepts I turn over in my head, I have pressed, punched, kneaded, and rolled out a number of ideas that, in part, may speak to this phenomenon. But, similar to a pastry chef dissatisfied with the amorphous collection of ingredients loosely formed on his floured table, so too does the doughy ball of my musings still seem unfit for the oven. Perhaps this essay may become a glass bowl of sorts, towel-draped, in which a writer’s yeast might be allowed to burgeon forth a necessary volume and consistency for the product. And so I begin!
It seems to me that, being a man of only twenty-four, I am still nearer to the period of my life in which I yearned for more sleep, dreading always the impending grind of A.M. classes, (be those high school or collegiate) the six o’clock chill of the butcher shop where I worked for some time, or any of the varied challenges that seem to walk arm-in-arm with the dawn. Naturally, as I cherished the time when I could avoid early rising, and relished very little the surrounding joys when I had no choice but to be awake, I have fewer memories than I would like of exceptional mornings. This brings me to my first and simplest point: I seek to soak up the morning as often as is possible because I feel I’ve somewhat squandered those opportunities until this moment of life. Of course, there are natural external factors that demand and condition a person to consider the “sleep in” as a relic of the past—driving one’s wife to work, years spent attending or teaching day-opening courses, and a genetic predisposition for light sleep being a personal few.
Travel seems to be a fascination of more and more people that I encounter, but before I yearn to explore states, continents, oceans, and beyond, I would rather temporally explore my current surroundings, absorbing all that they are at all times that they exist. Early mornings and late evenings prove to be far less expensive endeavors.
Large family gatherings are, for all their extraordinary benefits, often awkward experiences as various individuals with varied sleep schedules, morning routines, and the like worm out from underneath comforters, stumble to doors, and collapse on living room furniture while sleepily awaiting a quorum for breakfast (a number usually determined by the matriarch(s) of the family, who, from my observation, regularly assume the mantle of coffee preparation, as “pot” quickly becomes “pots”). As a child I found it terribly uncomfortable to rouse myself and twiddle my thumbs on the couch rather than participate in the multitude of activities I enjoyed—most of which would have disturbed the sleep of others—and so remained in bed, studying the ceiling (or sky, were it a camping adventure). It was on one such camping trip with my wife’s extended family that I realized what a role and responsibility it is to be the first out of bed.
We were gathered in a campsite in Upper Sioux territory, and as my wife (who has the gift of finding the deepest of sleep in the shortest of time) blissfully lay on our slowly-deflating air mattress, I half-crawled half-stiffly somersaulted from the unzipped tent door, pulled on a sweatshirt, and began reading Dickens’ David Copperfield at a picnic table. As each of my relatives began to emerge from their makeshift wilderness lodgings, I found it perfectly suited to my mood to direct them quietly to the coffee, greet them with a smile, and return to my reading, putting the “ball in their court,” so to speak, in terms of opening conversation. Human beings, immediately after they wake, are often at their most vulnerable. Before we enter sleep, we carefully tend to the safety concerns of our surroundings, be those locked doors for thieves or properly stored food for bears. We often clothe ourselves far less, and if full pajamas are a preference, they’re not as durable or protective as the jeans, work boots, or jackets of midday hours. While asleep, our defenses are lowered, our wits are certainly not about us, and we, in all honesty, enter a state of exposure possibly equaled only by venturing into traffic while operating a motorized vehicle. By being the first to rise, one is also the first to take assessment of the surroundings, to check belongings, to determine if anything is amiss. One becomes, however temporarily, the watchman, the protector. Each rising member of the family, upon seeing one more alert and kick-started than themselves, is relieved of some stress—they need not be on guard, need not be worried, at least for the moment.
In that small gift to my relatives, I see an infinitesimal reflection of a gift we receive every day; our Father never sleeps, our Lord sees all things, our God greets us at our most vulnerable. What a joy to have this reassurance at all times!
I realize that some, in the reading of this essay, are those heavy sleepers who find it difficult to rise first, and who might feel slighted by this writing. Let me be clear in saying that I intend not to delineate a better approach to one’s resting habits, favoring one above another, but rather to proclaim, in words, a thought previously held but unarticulated. Deep, full, rich, unencumbered sleep is a blessing, and is something I have envied in others, but realizing the way that one joy replaces another is a skill that allows us to take ownership of our gifts, and to cultivate a fertile ground for the growth of the Spirit within us.
Welcome those moments when you can usher in others to a new day. Welcome those chances to do things that fall by the wayside among the flurry of midday activity. Presently, I’m doing my best to make the most of one such morning, and it is indeed rewarding.
Listening to autumn’s cool whistle on my apartment porch
September 10, 2014
"Early Morning, Fishing Boat on a Strand"
Oil on Canvas - 1877-1944
James Humbert Craig