Watch, Now, How I Start the Day

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Dear Will:

For Christmas, my daughter Bryn gave me a homemade coupon for a hike and a burger. Now I love a good hike and a burger (especially with one of my kids), so I couldn’t imagine a better present. But there was a catch. The hike was to the top of Mount Timpanogos. In Utah.

If only that had been the ONLY catch. In order to collect my free meal, I first had to fly myself to Salt Lake City, then BEGIN our hike at 1 a.m. “so that we can be at the summit at sunrise.” Then, of course, I had to cover 7.5 miles to the 11,749-foot summit, with an elevation gain of 4,580 feet. Which is fine if you live at altitude, but not-so-much if you live, like I do, at 190 feet. Not good. Oh, and I’m an old guy with the fitness of a console television. So there’s that also.

Well, the day unfolded about as you would expect. The higher we climbed, the harder it was to breathe. I wobbled and wheezed, stumbled and stammered, shuffled and puffed all along the trail. Although I threatened several times to fall off of the mountain, I didn’t, and somehow I crumpled onto the summit around 5:30 a.m., a good half-hour ahead of schedule. Bryn was delighted.

On the summit itself, the vista was spectacular. Facing west, we looked out across Utah Lake and the vast Salt Lake valley; to the east, the view stretched past Sundance and Deer Creek, out and over the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest. As the sun appeared in the far distance, the eastern sky became awash with the reds and oranges of early morning.

On any other Friday, daybreak would have arrived and I’d have missed it altogether. But on this Friday morning, exhausted though I was, I got the full benefit of the rising sun. The moment brought to mind the words of Thoreau: “Only that day dawns to which we are awake.” But there on the summit, Bryn (and poet Mary Oliver) said it even better—a fitting invocation to start this or any day:

Hello, sun in my face.
Hello, you who make the morning
and spread it over the fields
and into the faces of the tulips
and the nodding morning glories,
and into the windows of, even, the
miserable and crotchety–

best preacher that ever was,
dear star, that just happens
to be where you are in the universe
to keep us from ever-darkness,
to ease us with warm touching,
to hold us in the great hands of light—
good morning, good morning, good morning.

Watch, now, how I start the day
in happiness, in kindness.

PW

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A Little Dazed–Maybe Even Catatonic

Dear Will:

I don’t quite believe what I have gotten myself into.

Several months ago the local church leaders approached me to see what I would think about an idea they had. To be specific, they wondered if I might be willing to teach early morning Seminary. Now in case you don’t know—or you maybe purged it from your personal memory—early morning Seminary is sort of like Bible Study for Mormons. The catch: It’s held at 6 a.m. . . . for high schoolers—by any measure the humans least likely to be alert at six in the morning.

For some reason I said yes. Not that I really know that much about the Old Testament, you understand. But I felt pretty strongly that it was something that God wanted me to do—so I agreed without really knowing how in the world I would pull it off.

The early morning part is no big deal for me. What is proving much harder, however, is finding time to prepare for 6 a.m. without staying up past midnight to get it done. As one who has grown accustomed in recent years to using the hours after the kids and Dana have gone to bed to try to get a little work done, I’ve had a hard time adjusting to the reallocation of my evening hours. Now I have to find an hour or so to prepare a lesson and I need to get to bed by around 10:30 p.m. if I want to avoid passing out on my way to work. And it ain’t easy.

Case in point: Although I am adjusting, the other day I was having such a hard time staying awake on the drive to work that I finally pulled into a McDonald’s parking lot, tilted back the seat, and took a little nap—at 8:20 a.m. Not good. Fortunately, now that I’m about three weeks in to this new assignment, I’m doing much better.

Here’s what’s cool about this job. First off, the kids are terrific. I’m teaching a bunch of seniors who are a total delight, reasonably enthusiastic and for the most part willing to participate. (Still, 6 a.m. is early, so there’s only so much energy and enthusiasm that they can reasonably summon. There are always a handful who looked a little dazed—maybe even catatonic. I probably look the same to them.) I’m also enjoying the necessity of reading and studying the scriptures each day. Not that I haven’t done that to some degree or the other for some time—but when you have to teach what you’re reading to someone else, it adds both focus and intensity to your exploration.

The biggest pay-off of all is that teaching Seminary is filling my mind with the word of God, which is (I hope) making me a better person. Since I have to ponder and teach eternal truths each day, I also feel compelled to try harder to apply those truths. Although I still holler at my kids too much and get grumpy and commit any number of other daily transgressions, I can already feel the difference it is making to be preoccupied with the Gospel. There are certainly worse things to fill your mind with, wouldn’t you say?

So if, in the months ahead, I start to write you a letter and nod off part way through, I hope you’ll understand and jfiosdklkjfk jkdkjkjj zzzzzjjjjjjjjjjjjzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. . . . . . . . .

PW