“The way you wear your hat
The way you sip your tea
The memory of all that
No, no, they can't take that away from me.”
~ George and Ira Gershwin, They Can’t Take That Away From Me.
With my bedside clock attesting to something between half-past five, and six a.m., I wake to open the bath taps and switch on the percolator. With coffee mug aperch on the tub’s edge, I hear the morning news from the small radio atop the hamper. My tendency, as usual, is to look at the radio, as though to listen more carefully. Washed and dressed, following my emergence is a second cup of hot coffee, whose succeeding landing place is not a bathtub ledge, but a glass coaster on my desk. Awaiting from the previous night’s writing- precisely where I’d left it- is my journal. Nearby are the accompanying pencils and pens. This time, the radio is a larger one, and the tuned broadcast is classical music. Current events were washed down the bath drain with the old water. Behold, things must become anew.
With book open, some recollection proceeds, wavering between the journal, some variety of reflective reading, and tastes of coffee. I could never quite get into the habit of solid breakfasts. My mother would insist that I eat something, while she would sip coffee. Long into adult life, she toldme that my grandmother insisted upon the same, all the while sipping coffee. So the continuum carries on. With notations, reading, radio listening, and a third cup, I habitually hurry out to my scurried commute. In my journals, this is begrudgingly called the slippery slope to the grind, and I tend to just get to my indentures on time. When life is so very interesting, interruptions obstruct trains of thought. As a result, a compensating habit is to recollect the morning’s thoughts during lunch hour, with yet another writing routine.
The other day, during one of my coveted lunch hours, the topic of routines reached my written thoughts. Personal routines, wherever we are in our homes or occupations, have their respective rituals that run deep. These are so profoundly embedded that we only notice them when brought to articulate our own actions and rhythms. Very likely, each one of us will step into the tub or shower the same way each time, with the same leading foot, day after day. The way and methodology of how you wash your dishes or laundry will be as unique as mine. I recall marveling at how, during a power outage, I instinctively bathed by candlelight, while sipping cold chocolate milk from a coffee mug. The radio, of course, is battery-operated. The show must go on, after all!
Our natural devotion to routines persists through the reality of constant change. It seems the very human ways in which we develop our own comfortable patterns exist in the context of transition. Establishing individual procedures and familiarities seem to create encampments for personal strength. If not personal strength, then at least as refuge and as a fixed point upon a map that grows gradually outdated by the day. Years ago, I had a neighbor who’d sit on the front steps with a cigarette, a coffee, and a newspaper just about every day. Coughing through her own smoke, she would say, “I can’t give up my cigarettes; they’re all I’ve got.” I think each of us can enumerate ingredients in our days that help us reinforce our sense of being. Small and portable keepsakes accompany me to work and on longer travels, reminding me of my roots. My habit has long been to wear blue, the color of trust and honesty, on days with workplace meetings, and this reminds me of how persistently we refine and build layers upon familiarities. We count on what we’re used to, and what puts us at ease.
Generating a sense of security parallels a subconscious comprehension of the undeniable constancy of change. We’re indoctrinated to expect transition, and taught to believe that changes are in the natural course of living. Developments and dissipations occur before our eyes. We visit new places, and watch as old buildings are torn down. Nostalgia challenges the accuracies in our perceptions. When portions of the past are preserved, the initial reaction is amazement. All the while, we’re told that change is part of life, it is to be expected, managed, and that everything we see is temporal. But in actuality, I dare say that we don’t really want things to change- and as they do, all those superficially understood axioms slip out of thought. In our thirst for constants, our stabilizing routines fly in the face of time’s advances. The proverbial carrying on provides a stationary ledge from which transition can be witnessed.
As involuntary as perpetual motion proves itself to us, this needn’t imply perpetual trepidation. The prospect of change is certain, but that need not constantly imply fear. Transition usually has us thinking of what we don’t want to experience, or lose; these tend to be the changes frustratingly beyond control. The natural response is to resist. But in so doing, there is missed momentum. The good in transition is in transfiguration, when changes are refined into something transcendent of circumstance. No easy matter, indeed, amidst an abiding bewilderment with realizations that our constants are nowhere as permanent as we think they are.
Navigating terrains of time, carefully negotiating cliffs of compromise, the controllable changes are to be discovered. Which transitions can be influenced by the individual human soul? How does an individual make sense of the unsympathetic constancy of transition- and even obsolescence? Perhaps the popular concern with appearance is far less critical than transcendent aspects of essence. This refers to what we are beneath and far above our physical and logistic limitations. We can surely affect our own essence, though our cultivation, through transition within. Rather than to view the soul as a spoke emanating from the hub of experience, consider the soul as the junction that draws together the spokes of an individual’s many experiences. Keeping in mind how we connect to the ultimate hub of creation, it is indeed the individual soul that is capable of connecting spectra of disparate influences and ideas.
Through the balance of the habitually persistent and the relentlessly changing, dreams transcendently continue. At least that is the hope. The desire to see vision fulfilled has a drive that is stronger than the taxing toll of time. Vision demands vigilance, and as truly as routine and change coexist, aspiration must transcend. Through storms and tides, the heart’s sense of direction must not be lost in defeat. Ceasing to dream is a great danger along the voyage through our earthly years. I’ll admit to savouring old familiar tastes and scenery, while simultaneously attempting to will improvements into existence that may not happen. Improbability, even at this stage, does not deter my wishes. And though I’ve had to reconsider definitions of success and accomplishment, I also know enough to persevere. That’s an old habit I haven’t lost.