Morning culture is a different perspective. All things are beginnings.
This is me in the morning:
Yes, I’m one of those who claim to get more work done at midnight (it’s a lie) and would gladly sleep until 10 on any given Sunday.
Fact is, it doesn’t happen these days. I’m like an adult now, with like a job and like kids. I can literally remember one day since last year when I slept past eight of the clock.
Typical morning: Jerk awake to hear the sound of crying Boy, check my phone to see whether I still have a shot at persuading him back to la-la land but it’s within 15 minutes on either side of six AM so I beat a quick path to the kids room, a surprising minefield for bare feet given that it’s ten feet away, which may be just enough time to sweep the Boy away before the Girl realizes she’s had a shot to get up early. Me and the Boy move quickly down the stairs and then, holding him, I let his half-dollar eyes stare out the window at the incandescent busy street out front while I silently congratulate myself for not falling down the entire flight in half-consciousness.
I was thinking about this the other day. I walked after work past the US Capitol Building, one of the bizarrely historic features of my daily commute, as the sun was making her way down for the night. I can see it on either side: the glorious rise on the East Front in the morning and the gentle impressionism on the West Front in the evening. It’s a freaking riot that I get this, literally thirteen feet away, while most of the working world sits in their Buicks listening to classic rock.
And I was thinking: physically speaking, the one is indistinguishable from the other. The AM show, a few degrees above the horizon, is exactly the same as the PM moments spending away the last few degrees of the opposite horizon. Some atmospheric effects due to the warming of earth and sky and sea over the half-day career, yes, but essentially the same. Physically speaking.
But you know what’s different? The people. The spirit of the time, if you will. When the solar beams first strike the Capitol columns, I’ll tell you what we have right there: awesome tranquility. Joggers and pedestrian commuters move on their way, some casual conversations murmur through the air, but it’s all just good. It’s good. It’s the only time of day the shear miracle, the utter necessity of light itself, impresses itself at all on my soul.
The evening simmers. In the city, work’s deadline-oriented energy bleeds into the activity-oriented energy of food and bars and meeting with friends. The relaxation of the sunset is one big collective drag on a cigarette while we re-gather ourselves for the next five, six hours. The light goes and civilization begins.
There is a morning culture, but it is not really comparable to the evening culture and the evening culture does not comprehend it. In the mornings are the gentle efforts to rouse from the sleep we all cherish. We see that first hour or two from the vantage point of that peace. All things are beginnings. If you are up at a reasonably early time, there is no hurry. We meet others and perhaps share a bagel with them, but it is less forced and less pressured. After all, it is just a bagel and not a filet of anything.
Evening culture is all the goods of this life and especially city life. It is everything aspired and hoped for, until it crashes or expires into sleep. It is the life that we would live forever, but for our bodies we cannot. When anyone speaks of culture, it is evening culture they refer to.
I would not choose the early hours but here we are, me and the Boy. We peer out the window at the early cars (the traffic never really stops on our street) and let our eyes adjust to the street lamps before I flip a switch in the room. It would be nice to have some time alone to pray in the morning, but I have a hard time doing 5:15 on a regular basis and really I would say my prayer time is much better, more engaged, more productive when it can happen later in the day. But it’s hard to say when I’ll have time for that.
So I sit the Boy next to me on our comfy armchair with a sippy cup of whole milk and a board book (basically the New York Times and a cup of joe) and he’s unusually content while I make a few notes in my journal, thumb through the Bible. My prayers at this time are brief and not impassioned but the upshot is a remarkable clarity.
In morning culture, the value of alcohol or electronics is diminished. It need not be solitary, but its citizens are comfortable with quiet. Sleep is considered the water that nourishes the plant, rather than a physical limit or a sweet comfort. In morning culture, we steal a little time from the dominant unknowing evening culture and simply be with our souls and with God and, eventually, with the sun. We enjoy our time and at the end we say, “The three of us should meet again.” And we will.
Bryan Wandel works in government finance and has studied history, accounting, and religion. He is a member of the editorial board at Humane Pursuits. Bryan’s writing has appeared at Comment Magazine, First Things, and elsewhere.