Most of my town was fast asleep. The windows were dark with inactivity. Only the creatures of the night scurried about in search of food or safety. Here and there, I noticed a few houses with only the kitchen lights burning. I imagined coffee makers bubbling away, preparing the daily aromatic brews.
The sharp Nebraska, January air felt invigorating and refreshing to the face. There was a slight aroma of wood stove or fireplace smoke mixed with the dull stink of natural gas exhaust from the neighborhood’s furnaces.
My favorite parka kept me almost too warm. My hands felt the folded gloves in the pockets. Bare hands in coat pockets during a cold walk make me feel happy.
The sky wears scattered clouds that are colored brownish orange from the reflected streetlights. I try to focus on the cloudless areas in search of familiar stars. I think I see the “handle” of the Big Dipper. I believe everyone in the Northern Hemisphere can instantly make out that constellation.
I look down at the street when a few gravel stones become lodged in the tread grooves of my shoes. I reflexively halt in order to scrape the soles across the pavement to dislodge the little pebbles. My stride once again becomes silent.
The faint sound of a distant ambulance siren from the West breaks my reverie.
I imagine them arriving at a middle class home. The EMTs rush in to revive an elderly woman who has suffered a heart attack. I remember hearing somewhere that early morning is a peak time for heart attacks. Then I hear more sirens, then I wonder if they are instead speeding to the scene of a traffic wreck. I hope the victim lives to see another day.
We may sometimes think about our own demise after we hear about the misfortune of others. Thoughts about our family and friends come to mind. Maybe we think about shared experiences. Those times that we really connected with other people. Maybe the closeness and comfort shared with a lover comes to mind.
It seems ironic that when we ponder our own death, we can become grateful and even joyful. We might realize that now is the time to feel gratitude. At that moment, we celebrate our lives.
Of course we don’t need to wait for the funeral of a friend in order to celebrate our life. There is the “Zen Moment” when we realize we are fully engrossed in a task. I can feel complete when a cat is curled up in my lap. He softly purrs when my fingers massage his pointy ears.
Sometimes I need to really celebrate my life. I cue up the final movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and crank up the sound for the “Ode to Joy”. I marvel at how my favorite composer adapted Friedrich Schiller’s verse into such an expression of musical euphoria. I love that this movement should never make it as Muzak® background.
The last movement of the “Ninth” must be heard loud, in all of its glory. It’s one of the few religious songs that I actually like. I wish everybody knew such joy.
I notice that the “mental jukebox” is playing the song in my head. There’s a grand chorus in equal measure with a great orchestra. The music plays loud, yet not a single creature, but I, can hear it.
The mental song fades, yet one portion repeats itself over and over as I make my way back home.
“…Seid umschlungen, Millionen!
Diesen Kuß der ganzen Welt!…”
(“…You millions, I embrace you.
This kiss is for all the world!…”)
I stepped up from the curb, onto the sidewalk leading to my front door. I remember why I love the very early morning.