Infinite Morning: Waking Up With the World

Sunrise over Monument Valley--this is the best I've seen.

It was the morning of my first day of middle school. I had just woken up and was thrashing through a heap of clothes on the floor, searching for the right shirt and the right shorts to wear. I wanted to be cool, because you were supposed to be cool in middle school. Somewhere, from someone, you were supposed to have learned what to wear, how to walk, how to talk, and by then you should have known to throw in a cuss word and a “dawg” here and there when conversing with your peers. I had yet to learn any of these important lessons, least of all what clothing pre-teens considered cool. I decided on a Michael Jordan theme because I was twelve and Michael Jordan was cool. That morning I dressed in Michael Jordan shorts, a Michael Jordan T-Shirt, and Air Jordan basketball shoes. I slung my backpack over my shoulder and left the house in my Jordan attire.

It was late August in Austin and the muggy air clung to my skin as I walked toward my bus stop half a mile away. I noticed then that the air carried the sounds of my neighborhood a little better than at other times of day. I heard the cars streaming down Slaughter Lane. I heard the squeal of their brakes, the barking of their horns, and the screaming of their tires on the pavement. I could make out disembodied voices floating on the breeze. “See you this evening,” said one. “Remember your lunch,” said another. “Go to hell,” yelled a woman’s voice from a house somewhere down the street. With each step I took the volume rose all around me. The gaps between sounds shrunk until they merged into one loud murmur. I remember thinking that the world was waking up with me and that the cacophony around me was the earth issuing a long sigh as it shook off a night’s slumber.

I liked waking up to go to school because then, in the early morning, I felt in tune with the world, as if we breathed together and moved together. Every little act gained in meaning and significance when I realized that I did it in concert with the whole of creation. Sometimes I felt like I stood on the back of a giant whose size and shape I could only guess at. When the giant moved, I moved. When the giant stopped, I stopped. If I fell out of synch, if the giant sneezed and I failed to sneeze along with him, I would tumble off into the abyss.

There are days now, eighteen years later, when I wake up and I feel the same sense of synchrony with the world. I walk out the door and the car horns, the squealing brakes, the disembodied voices float to me on a light breeze. Again the saturated air clings to me and again it’s as if the world is waking up along with me. When this happens I’m both here, going to work, and there, a twelve-year-old kid walking to the bus, afraid of being unpopular. I’m also a teenager waking up early on another muggy morning to play basketball with some friends. And I’m a twenty-year-old college student dangling my legs from a cliff in Yosemite National Park. The sun is rising and throwing dagger-shaped shadows across the valley a mile below me. A smell of pine permeates the air. Again I feel that I’m sitting atop a giant whose form remains a mystery. Again I feel that we breathe as one. We move as one.

These experiences exist outside of time. They can be packed into an instant like a trillion particles crammed into a singularity a moment before the Big Bang. All of them are there, together, in the same space, in the same mental moment, occurring forever.

Moments Stolen From Time

My eyes welled up with tears as I watched my friends feed their son carrot purée for the first time in his life or theirs.  We were in their kitchen.  The baby, some six months old, sat in his high chair near the glass kitchen table.  Short blond hair curled about his head.  He gazed out at the world through blue eyes, and slobber dripped from his moistened lips.  His mother sat in a chair beside him while his father stood watching them both from three feet away.  The father grabbed the digital camera and snapped photos as the mother raised tiny spoonfuls of orange purée to their son’s mouth.  He licked his lips and frowned, then stared into space, lost in contemplation of this new texture, this new taste on his tongue that we call “carrot”, but that to him had never existed until that moment.  Mother and father alternated; one fed, one took pictures.  Both smiled.  Both laughed.  Eventually the baby smiled, too, though whether in reaction to the food or to his parents’ laugher, I didn’t know. 

I held back tears because I realized that I was watching a moment that is repeated thousands of times each day all over the world.  But here, in my friends’ kitchen, mother, father, and baby were experiencing it for the first time.  It didn’t matter that for millennia parents had fed their children and laughed with them.  For these two parents and for this family, it was all happening as if for the first time in history.

In my mind there flashed images of the times I had spent with my two good friends, chatting for hours in bars about subjects heavy and light, singing karaoke, and drinking our first margaritas together, days after we first met.  I remembered my friends as just a happy couple.  Now, before me, I saw the image of a happy family: a cute blond-haired kid and two parents who loved him as I may never love anyone, unless I have kids of my own.  And I saw their son ten, fifteen, twenty years in the future.  I saw him kicking soccer balls and chasing lizards, snatching spiders from sidewalks and thrusting them in the face of his terrified mother.  I saw him throwing a frisbee with the family Labrador, dressing up for prom, and driving off to college to find himself and his passions.  And I saw his parents accompanying him through it all, still laughing, sometimes scolding, always loving him. 

In that moment, while the father took pictures of his wife feeding their son tiny spoonfuls of carrot purée, I imagined both of them, some day in the distant future, flipping through a photo album—paper or digital, it doesn’t matter—and resting their eyes on the photos they took in the far-off past, when for the first time they fed their son puréed carrots.  And I imagined them tearing up the way I did when I saw them take those photos, when they stole from the clutches of time a moment I’ll always remember.    

Now, my friends have a new son, with thick brown hair and eyes that open as slits, perhaps pondering this new world of radiant light.  How is the baby to know whether he or the whole world itself was born just days ago?   A new story begins, with new photos and first moments to fill its pages.  I may never have kids, but I feel fortunate to have shared in these sacred moments and the happiness that flows out of them.