I think that life gets its sense of balance and rhythm from those predictable events that define each day. I get up with the dawn, move toward the shower without thought, start the coffee, flip on the news, boot up the laptop. I can pack my school bag, gather up my corrected papers, find my lunch and put on my jacket, all without conscious effort. Out the driveway, left at the bus stop, up the hill and down again. Past the pool, past the rink, past the big chair. The radio drones on, the coffee is sipped, the lights change. Onto the highway, into the line of cars careening along our well worn paths to work.
I realized just the other day that it is the lack of surprise that keeps the mornings calm and smooth, as uneventful as an afternoon nap. I think that I rely on the probability of the well known to keep my anxiety at bay. But now I wonder, what have I lost by moving through the world wrapped in the gauze of the mundane? What sights, what surprises, am I missing just by forgetting to look?
It was barely seven in the morning; a dark, slightly misty late March day. The whole world was a monochromatic palette of gray. I hardly glanced to either side of the highway as I drove. I was focused internally on the school day to come, the restless night just passed, thoughts of my kids and my mom and the wars and the earthquake. Focused without any clarity on my usual worries and cares.
As the car sped along, my eye was suddenly grabbed and held by a vivid flash of white. Off to the right, behind a chain link fence, I saw the wetlands conservation area that I pass every morning. The water was the color or pewter, with silvery grasses and the blackened trunks of drowned trees interrupting its shining surface. There was a slight haze of morning mist, glimmering and floating above the pond. And there was that pristine spot of purest white.
At first I thought that it was a patch of snow, and quickly dismissed it. But then it moved, and gently reformed itself, a slender band of alabaster arching up toward the sky. A sudden ripple of feathers, and the patch of white revealed itself to be a swan, there in the middle of the dead leaves, broken branches and murky water.
As quickly as my brain registered the fact of its existence, I had sped past the beautiful bird, and she was gone. At highway speed, I was well beyond her in seconds, and couldn’t risk a look back to verify what I had seen.
But my heart had kicked to life. My eyes were seeing with a sudden sharpness that hadn’t been there only moments before. “A swan.”, I said out loud to no one. “A SWAN?!” It was the sheer improbability of the event that made me grin. It was the surprise of the moment that gave it a feeling of wonder and awe. I kept returning to that fleeting, lovely image as the day went on.
I looked for that swan on the way home, and on both commutes the next day. I wasn’t sure that she had been real. I thought perhaps that I had mistaken something far more common for that regal bird, but I couldn’t stop looking, and hoping, that I would see her again.
And on the third morning, as the sky turned the color of pearls in the early morning light, I saw her again. Serene and majestic and blindingly white, set off against the dark water, her neck arched, her head bowed toward her own reflection. Just one glimpse, and I was past her again. But this time she was real, and I had really seen her.
And I know that it was the sheer improbability of seeing a swan on a muddy wetland pond in early March that kept my eyesight sharpened and my focus on the world out there, rather than the one in here. It was the element of surprise that gave the moment its magic.
So now I still ease my way through my mornings, but I am also trying very hard to find and to recognize those little moments of improbable wonder when life gives them to me like gifts.