Johnny Carson once asked George Burns if it was true that he only slept about four hours a night. Burns replied that it was, in fact, true. Carson seemed surprised and asked him, “What in the world do you do then, when you can’t sleep??” Burns shrugged and said, “I get up.”
It took me some time to appreciate the simplicity of that response, to let go of some sort of expectation that I “should be” tired or I am “supposed to be asleep right now.” I’m not tired, like this morning when I woke at four. I wasn’t groggy, I wasn’t overly occupied by imposing thoughts. So, I got up.
I headed south and then east and arrived at the oceanfront about a half hour before the sun, as if we agreed to meet for breakfast, me carrying my bottle of water, the sun pushing an awakening Atlantic before it. I checked the weather app and saw our appointment was for 6:37; I was early, though I can see the sun’s foreglow coming across the horizon, so I knew it would be on time. I walked the sand for a while.
This is so simple, I thought as I walked my way up the beach at the water’s edge. This clearly didn’t take planning, didn’t demand money or rearranging of responsibilities, and the only consideration I had was how long did I have before I needed to be somewhere else. This morning: about an hour. Experience reminds me and anticipation informs me this is likely to be the most peaceful hour of the day; it is packed with hope and possibility, like the glimmer of light just cracking the dark blue sky, the just-waning moon fading in the west, the passing dolphins and gulls and osprey and pelicans who know nothing of being “late” to anything. I am convinced that dawn has swept in and saved me more than a few times.
These mornings remind me how often I create my own stress by not pacing myself better, by not taking a few extra moments. My son and I have risen early at home several times a month to take in the sunrise at the bay, before even the watermen have made their way out past the reach. And at night, well, at night we have seen more sunsets together in the past two decades than I can possibly count. Not one of them was redundant, not one disappointing, and never did I think I should have been doing something else.
I am not avoiding responsibility; I am pushing the edges out just a little, just a very little, to fit perspective into the fold, to allow for the purpose both coming and going to reveal itself to me.
I swear sometimes at the end of the day when we’re standing on the sand at the river and the yellow, then orange, then something like deep maroon seems to sink below the western strand, I almost hear it whisper “Thank you for noticing.”