Quiet morning solitude is sacred. I rise immediately upon waking, press grind/brew on the coffee maker and fire up the burner under the tea pot that was filled with water the night before. Bent neatly into the corner of the couch, my sleeping dog indulges scores of morning kisses, barely stirring her maple-syrup scented head from her bolster pillow. Then a quick trip to the bathroom to freshen up, to rinse the sleep from my eyes. Scalding hot water heats the stoneware cup, embossed with a testament of my love for my dog, to prepare it for the brew that will rinse the sleep from my mind. One flick of the wrist of cream, and I am onto my mat with my first cup and my laptop for morning writing. One page per day. Little enough to feel always possible, yet enough to add up to something substantial over time. A series of early-morning, dark room processes eventually developing into the big picture: coffee, yoga, writing, doggie, the cornerstones of my creativity. Unrelenting focus on the minutiae sends me spiraling, erratically. Simple, meaningful and productive routines ground me and eventually get me to where I am going. In the quiet, I remember.
When we were children, mom had the unpleasant task of waking us for church. The one we attended believed in daily ecclesiastical edification. Whether Sunday school or evening service, worship service, youth service or revival, it was a rare day that we did not spend some time on the church grounds. Once per week, after school, the bus dropped us three kids on the grassy grounds of the front lawn to clean the sanctuary. When our work was complete, my brother Daniel and I would mimic baptisms, that all-critical moment of dedication in one’s spiritual life in the evangelical tradition. Mom caught us once and was hardly amused. The baptismal font is drained in between pageants, so there had been no previous evidence of dripping clothes to tip her off. I imagine that I have been baptized hundreds of times. Alas, to no avail.
Coffee became the method of choice to stir three children out of their beds, once again, to re-up their contracts with the divine. The Southern tradition of coffee awakening runs deeply. Perhaps the heavy early exposure to the religious brew overwhelmed my receptors, or perhaps my tolerance is just incredibly high, like the children of Afghan women who are soothed with opium and the difficulty our medics had during the conflicts there in treating their pain with anything short of what would be a lethal dose to an average man. At any rate, coffee is ritual- soothing, comforting, luxurious— but it is not quickening. It is solitude that wakes me properly. In the quiet stillness of the morning, before outside voices intrude, I can hear my own mind, my self that shrinks throughout the day. She is loudest and strongest when not fighting for space, not reacting to challenge or contorting in order to appease. She can speak in the morning, before the world wakes up with its sound and light and questions. With its expectations and need for explanations. In solitude, I am strong and clear and able to soften within my skin.