"If we let ourselves, we shall always be waiting for some distraction or other to end before we can really get down to our work. The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavorable. Favorable conditions never come."
I have a big test today. I am awake at 5:00. Adrenaline is my alarm clock, but it doesn’t translate into alertness. I linger in bed, comforted by cottony sheets, lavender light peeking through window blinds, and the sense of a presence. I know God watches over me when I sleep, for my first sense of anything is that he is near.
It takes ten minutes to face the futility of trying to doze. I roll my feet out of warm sheets, onto carpet, into the kitchen where I manage a bowl of granola while filtering water. My coffeemaker is broken, so I put the water in an electric kettle to boil. I still use the coffeemaker -- doing my own “princess-pour-through," as I call it. This morning I am brewing Gevalia Columbian and Costa Rica Peaberry mixed. I pour bubbly hot water over the grounds and savor their nutty aroma. When the coffee is ready, I bring it with me to the computer in a white cup with saucer. For years, this has been my private tradition. Morning coffee is presented in a white cup with a saucer, regardless. It keeps me civilized.
One of my favorite American photos is of Jackie Kennedy on the Presidential campaign trail with her senator husband, John. She was having breakfast at a diner. The camera snapped just as she was sipping from a white coffee cup lifted off a white saucer. The photo is black and white. Her dark lashes lean against her cheeks, and beneath them is that drowsy fullness which tells us it is early morning. I cannot look at her without hearing silverware clink on plates, cars drive by, and languid murmur of low, sleepy conversation. She found herself in places unexpected, in a life she had not planned.
A few months ago, I picked up “Palmer’s Cocoa Butter” in a drugstore, so thick it is almost like a bar of soap. This morning, I rub a little on my hands. They smell like chocolate. For some reason, I remember Christmas in Pennsylvania: snow, fresh greens, candles in windows, chocolates.
When we sold our home, not knowing where we would be next, I folded a special blanket into my suitcase. My husband gave it to me on Mother’s Day twenty years ago. We had just moved to Pennsylvania. I was a young mother -- lonely and lost in a new place. The blanket is handwoven, cotton paisley. Its colors have faded, now soft as a sunrise, with texture like old linen. I wrap myself in it, morning and evening. I reach for it as light is rising and the world is waking up.
The birds will be gathering breakfast in the fields outside while I study. I have a few more hours before my final exam. This course has not been one of my favorites and I will be glad it is over. What will I do next? I’m torn between celebrating and getting organized for fall. There isn’t much time, just a week. I didn’t study Greek like I was supposed to -- mainly because of this course I am finishing today. Everything doesn’t fit. There are always a few expectations that wander outside my reach, like small children left standing in a game of musical chairs.
I have liked seminary less than I thought I would. Sometimes I wonder why I am here. But on most days, I am carried along by simple comforts and the next task waiting for me. I am carried by wonder and by gratitude. I am carried by love. I have made an unusual choice, going back to school when everyone thought I would be growing flowers and playing with grandchildren.
Here at the beginning of my second year, I am struck by how our lives are woven and worn by small choices. Simple, private things shape us -- what we think when we are alone, how we drink our coffee, what we do first thing in the morning, how we handle our daily failings.
Bit by bit, these make us.
Vintage Art Nouveau Motifs, courtesy of Dover Publications.