My alarm clock is the digital kind that at some preprogrammed time emits a shriek specifically designed to shock me into consciousness. I’ve experimented with others, the ones that guarantee the same result but with bells or music or ocean surf. None seem to work. No matter how soothing the process, my awakening is always unwelcomed and rude.
Which is why my morning ritual has become so necessary. My weekday routine has been simplified and honed over the years. It’s been stripped to the barest essentials to ensure the maximum amount of doing with the minimum amount of effort:
Stumble out of bed, brush my teeth, shower, and pour coffee. Then I leave, using the drive to work to pray and catch a few minutes of my favorite semi-crude redneck morning radio show.
This may sound simple and ordinary, which exactly accomplishes my purpose. My morning routine is designed to be a counterassault on my day—a way to add a layer of the predictable between me and the unpredictable hours that will follow.
Sounds flawless, doesn’t it? It is. Or was. Because last Wednesday something very odd happened to challenge that notion.
I woke up at work.
It was a sudden realization, one that I decided was not unlike my shrieking alarm clock. One moment I was in bed, and the next I was standing in the middle of a college mailroom with a stack of letters in my hand. The memory of how I had managed to get from point A to point B had been at best misplaced and at worst lost.
I could only suppose that I had followed the usual ritual of alarm-wake-brush-shower-pour-leave-pray-laugh. I just couldn’t remember it. And that bugged me. I felt as though I’d somehow cheated myself out of two hours of living.
That notion stayed with me for the rest of the day, and I went to bed that night determined to make sure it didn’t happen again. So Thursday morning I changed things up. I showered before I brushed and laughed while I prayed (which I’m now convinced everyone should do because it was fantastic). I drank hot tea instead of coffee. I took a different way to work and listened to a slightly more intellectual morning radio show.
It was, in a word, better.
Not so much because my morning was improved, because it wasn’t. Showering before brushing my teeth wasn’t very pleasant, but it was pleasantly different. Just like the alternate route to work didn’t reveal anything new but much that was dissimilar. That was the key. Being a little uncomfortable meant I had to pay a lot of attention.
Sometimes I think we’re fooled into believing we have only one birth and one death. I don’t think that’s true. I think with the shrieking alarm of every day we’re faced with a choice to live or die, if not outwardly than certainly on the inside. And it’s the purest sort of choice, one that cannot be bargained with or cheated. Choosing to live a little less is the same thing as choosing to die a little more.
How much do we miss while chained to the Same Old? How many blessings pass us by? How much of life’s magnificence? The ugliness of this world surrounds us every day. It’s as close as the newspaper and the television. It’s a click away on your computer. It engulfs us to the point of surrender.
You can be numb and still see the bad, but you have to pay attention to see the joy. You have to watch for it. Seek it. The beauty that exists in this world is like the wind. It’s difficult to see, but much easier to see its effects. It fires the imagination and inspires hope. It replaces our wandering with purpose.
My morning ritual is more of an embrace now. I’m trying to wake up. Trying to reach out for my day rather than shrink away from it, to draw deeply from life’s well rather than taking a sip.