Fleeting Peace

It’s early. Too early for my sleep crusted eyes and cloudy mind. But duty calls: Simon, our Boston Terrier, needs to go outside. Jill fills her part of this morning routine. “The dog needs to go out,” she mumbles, her notification of Simon’s awakening and a call to action for me.

There’s nothing remarkable about this morning. Simon sniffs about the lawn, marking his territory, fierce descendant of wolves that he is. Content that his turf is dutifully claimed, we walk back to the patio and into the house where the kettle is near done warming its contents. Food gets put into the dog’s bowl, and is gone in seconds. Breakfast for Simon is not about enjoyment, it’s all about expediency.

I go about my other morning ritual, then bring both Simon (who’s afraid of stairs and refuses to go up or down them) and our coffee to our bedroom. After depositing Simon in his dog bed, I set the coffees on their respective side tables.

Jill is sleeping. I crawl back into bed, and she snuggles up to me, head on my chest, her breathing barely breaking rhythm. Light breezes come in through our open windows, flung about the room by the ceiling fan, creating the illusion of coolness. The humidity also makes its way in, the light rain outside unable to dampen its effects. We lay like this, Jill sleeping, me drifting off slightly to that blissful little place where you’re not entirely awake, but also not deep enough for dreams to take hold of you and tell you stories. I wake every so often, usually to the dog snoring as he does, snorty and loud. My arm is asleep now, and our skin is sticking to each other’s, another demonstration of humidity’s sly prowess. I’m still not fully awake, but my mind says “This is nice. Don’t move.” Strange notion for someone who is clearly uncomfortable.

The machinery inside my head comes more fully to the fore. I stay still. The sounds of the distant highway, its white noise hum, waft in the windows, too. There’s a few birds chittering and chatting. I open my eyes and look out the window. One of our large oak trees has been serving as a home for wood peckers for three years now as fewer and fewer leaves adorn its branches. A squirrel scurries up its trunk. Life is happening out there. Sometimes I forget that life isn’t just a human thing; there’s a myriad of living creatures moving in and out of our days. Our human experience has rendered these to the background for most. I only notice them when I get out of the constant thrum of thoughts and need to be active. I am a fidgeter by nature, in real life and online. Sitting still is not a skill I’ve had the ability to acquire.

I’m not alone in that. It’s challenging to be present and slow ourselves down, much less be still and take everything in. Incessant news cycles, world injustices, the lure of distraction from the awfulness that can engulf us, the desire to be right and make your points to someone who has no interest in real dialogue, the ever changing landscape of parenting teens and preteens. The bustle is so loud, the quiet doesn’t stand a chance to grab our attention.

There are moments, though, like this. Where natural elements gently remind you that there is more going on in the background, begging for your attention. Where the skin of your loved one is against yours, their trust in you absolute as they sleep in your arms. Where you don’t feel the pull of house projects and the need to be doing something.

They are rare and fleeting. For an hour this morning, I knew gratefulness and peace. I was still and mindful and it was beautiful.

Soon, the world will collapse this small cocoon of joy. The freneticism of life will demand I move, and I will meet its call. Hopefully I’ll take a second or two and recall the moment of this morning, smile, and move on to tackle the next crisis that presents itself. I’ll promise myself to slow down, and take things in. It’s a largely empty promise, as life tends to detest inactivity. But some day I will find it again, bask in it, and wonder why I don’t seek it out more.

Right now, though, I’ll milk this for all it’s worth.

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Ritual As Love

Light pushes between my eyelids, announcing a new day. For a few seconds my eyes battle the morning, wanting more time to dream. Ultimately, morning wins as it always does, and I blink away the remnants of rest. A small stretch follows, soft grunts escaping me. These are the songs of age that come with the years I’ve amassed.

That very same light bathes my sleeping wife, highlights and shadows playing upon the face I love so. It is serene, idyllic, and beautiful – that face.

She is perfection in the dawn. So perfect that I dare not disturb that vision.

I slide my legs out from under the comforter, an exaggeratedly slow action of putting my feet to the floor and gradually raising my body off the bed. This goes much clumsier than I would have liked. A glance back reveals my lack of gracefulness hasn’t awoken her. Steady and rhythmic breaths come and go – telltale signs slumber still has her under its spell.

Awkwardly, I tiptoe out of the room hoping that the carpet will mask my steps. The remainder of the way is pure hardwood, old and unforgiving, and unconcerned with my need for quiet. My first tentative step elicits a creak and I freeze. I look back to insure my wife has not awoken. Still no break in her breathing which gives me hopes that my quest can continue. I resume tip-toeing, navigating to the steps. The descent is a chorus of complaints from the wood, each one making their best effort to expose my secretive trek. There’s no way of knowing if the floor has given me away, so I keep moving. I lightly step through the living and dining rooms and finally reach my destination: the kitchen.

My ritual can now begin in earnest.

I reach for the kettle to test its weight. It’s roughly a quarter full, so I migrate to the sink and fill it. When water finally reaches the rim, I shut off the faucet and return the kettle to its home. Switched on, the heater under the kettle coaxes the water to boil – a crucial element to the ritual.

I fetch two mugs, stoic receptacles awaiting their prize, and set them down next to the now-heating kettle. A small mason jar of sugar yields its contents to the mugs; one spoonful for her, two for me.

The ritual continues with final preparations.  The French press now is pulled to the fore. A container of coffee offers its contents for use. Six level scoops are dropped into the French press and await the steaming water to rain down and release its potential.

The water reaches its penultimate boil, signaling the time to join the roiling water with the inert coffee grounds. I do just that and am rewarded with the smell of java and caffeine, a partnership of elementals that fill the air. A spoon moves in circles in the press, creating miniature whirlpools of foam and coffee. I pull the spoon out, satisfied that union is complete. For a moment, I watch the eddies and swirls move about, fighting for supremacy.

I settle the lid on the press and gently push down. The key is to go slowly so no grounds find their way free. After what seems to be an interminable amount of time, the pressing is done, plunger at the bottom compressing the grounds.

Holding the lid and plunger in place, I pour the coffee into mugs which have been waiting patiently for its passenger. I pour hers first. I always do, but I can’t say why. Hers I fill to the brim, or as near as can be. Mine, I leave a bit of room for a splash of milk. My wife needs no such accompaniment. She prefers her coffee strong and stark; mine, not so much. Milk is poured into mine, and then both are stirred. Hers is a dark mocha; mine is caramel colored. At last, the ritual is close to complete. Now for the final part of my stealthy journey: deliverance.

Across the hardwood I go again, trying and mostly failing to avoid parts that protest my weight. As I reach the steps, a smile escapes my lips. This happens each time I begin my ascent back to our bedroom. The smile of anticipation looking forward to that face I adore giving back its own smile, dreamy and struggling to remain before a yawn overtakes.

The steps groan just as loudly as they did when I first made my way down them for my morning ritual. I send a disapproving scowl at the wood, but it pays me no mind and continues to do what floors of its age do. Just a few more steps to the relative quiet of the rug floor of our bedroom.

Cautious steps carry me to the rug, wary of both noise and spillage. Now that I am back at the beginning, I bring the coffee to her side of the bed and set the mug down on her night stand. I touch her face, lightly caressing it, and just as lightly, “Good morning, my love. I brought you coffee,” as I lean down and kiss her.

The smile she gives is as lovely as I envisioned. It always is. And it is unfailingly worth it.