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Make time for contemplation

| Friday, Sept. 8, 2006

Certain hours of the day are sacred.

They deserve reverence, not in a religious sense, but by way of the attention we pay to them.

Because of the frenzied pace at which we live our lives today, such deference is rarely shown to other people, much less a time of day.

Morning is a time that deserves recognition. Instead, we treat it as a hurdle to be bounded over. Does anyone eat breakfast casually anymore?

Starved as we are for sleep, we crawl out from under the covers at the last possible moment and stagger to our duties, which ultimately prepare us to head out to school or work. No sitting, no reading, no prayers or thanksgiving?

I look forward to the days when I can step out into the mist of a warm-season morning and walk, or just sit and listen to the day awakening, and not be concerned about lack of sleep or the hour. And the days when I can look out on snow and give it my full consideration, with no appointment to keep.

Morning is a time of day worthy of the art of contemplation, an art like any other that requires talent and skill and strict devotion.

A quote — one of my favorites — from the French philosopher and writer Simone Weil says it all: “Absolutely unmixed attention is prayer.” Think about it.

Sadly, many of us will have to wait until we retire to put ourselves to the test of true contemplation in the morning, and even then, too many who are retired often say they have never been so busy.

Busy isn't all that it's cracked up to be.

Another hour that has always fascinated me is midnight, or shortly after.

I first became acquainted with it as a boy, leaving the movie theater in the first minutes of a new day as my father, the manager, locked up.

People were out at midnight, but their movements seemed surreal to me as a boy. Even the traffic lights blinked in a less controlling manner, flashing yellow urging us “be careful” rather than the red of “obey the law.”

I particularly remember a man who walked the streets of Bellevue, near Pittsburgh. He walked — no, make that strolled — and smoked cigarettes, up one side of the main avenue and down the other, every night, perhaps all night.There were stories about why he did so, but I don't know them to be true, and it does not matter. He was so common a sight that it was somehow comforting, a statement that the town was moving toward a new morning in the way it should. It was like a scene out of “Our Town,” in which the sheriff and newspaper editor meet late at night and discuss the local town drunk.

Today we seem to fear the night and the evils some might get up to. That's sad.

Sometimes the movie theater my dad managed was an hour's ride from home, and my father would drive along the Parkway into, across, and out of the city, windows down and a show, perhaps Ed and Wendy King's “Party Line,” on the radio and the smell of the Mon River (a good smell really) in the air.

And we wouldn't talk. We'd just listen to the night.

I think of those rides often nowadays as I leave the Leader Times for home after midnight. I think of those many, many nights he rode through the city alone, on his way home to perhaps an early morning sandwich before climbing the stairs to bed.

In his own way, he was showing reverence to that early morning hour, its silence and his ritual. It was and is a time to think, a time to just be.

Try a little contemplation of the hour sometime, morning or night; you might find it habit forming. It might slow you down and allow some peace into your life. A little less speed and more calm in the world can't be a bad thing.

Meandering appears Fridays. If you want to share some thoughts with the writer, send them to the Leader Times, P.O. Box 978, Kittanning, PA 16201 or mohare@tribweb.com.

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