Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Keep a Good Thought

My wife and I tried breaking our nightly routine. To alleviate muscle aches, we deduced that if we each slept on side of the bed where the other person usually lies, we might arise pain free. (It made sense in the moment.)

I make no claim that swapping pillows is a valiant act of bravado. That does nothing to diminish the reality that it, in fact, was awkward. Not simply "I-normally-don't-wear-this-color-so-I-feel-like-everyone's-staring-at-me" unpleasant; it was more akin to "Did-I-forgot-to-zip-something?" anxiety. We tossed, turned, bumped into each other multiple times, and waited twitchily for the arrival of Hypnos, the God of Slumber, only to be jilted on the mattress. After several fidgety hours, reverting to positions of yore, we obtained at last a modicum of shut-eye.

It's not as if my bride and I, while writing our vows, discussed who would lay claim to which side of the bed. "Do you, Scott, promise to love, cherish, and support Mary Ann until the end of your days - while swearing to snooze faithfully on the section of bed furthest from the nightstand?"

No, that's not how it happens. Customs emerge. One moment, it's an arbitrary behavior, next instant: Habit. Isn't that how it is?

We set up repetitive behaviors for our ease; then, something alters them. We are naked, abandoned, and lonely. Without habit's landmarks, direction is lost; uneasiness swamps us. So, we rush back as quickly as possible, reassured finally by the embrace of the familiar.

This morning, as I left our home, I mentioned to my wife, "Keep a good thought." Neither a particularly sage nor unique turn of phrase, its sentiment is kind, and I meant it sincerely. Yet, it's another of those expressions that rolls off the tongue without thought: another habit.

And as I routinely walked 17 minutes down E Street and 11 minutes back on F Street (stopping at the regular time at "my" coffee house so I could sit at "my" table with a daily cup of coffee and read the morning newspaper), I realized how much of life is ordered on preset molds.

Awakening and sleeping are based on the clock. Workday functions are a matter of rote. Even my attitude is usually balanced. When events go awry - just as habitually - I eat to handle stress, then walk to handle the eating. Habits, patterns, routines everywhere.

I'm not complaining (mostly). I am fortunate; my challenges are less than those faced by many others. But that does not preclude me from wondering what I would see if I more often "shook it up" and did something off my beaten path, experiencing life with atypical eyes?

A good thought; one I must remember.

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