It was a late-summer morning on the Chesapeake. The steam rose from the rim of my Styrofoam cup as I walked down the gravel lane from Hartge’s marina in Galesville, just south of Annapolis. I heard the gravel crunch beneath the soles of my Dockers as the taste of the strong coffee began to wake me up.
After a night on a sailboat, you close your eyes, and you’d swear you were still rocking, the way the boat would sway gently back and forth with the wakes of boats departing the marina in the early morning mist. The morning air, still cool with dew, smelled vaguely of fish mixed with fiberglass and breakfast. The smallest of breezes was still enough to make that “tink, tink” sound of halyard against mast which, when multiplied, set up a symphony of expectation, the sound of boats straining against their moorings to go out into the Broads of the Bay, just in sight of Thomas Point Light where freighters bound for Baltimore made their slow and steady way north.
The first time I saw a hundred masts in the morning, I cried. To me, moments like this are holy — moments when the sky is a particular blue, or the sun slants a certain way, or there is a particular tone in the voice of another person — when we are aware that there is so much more to life than meets the eye. Sometimes all it takes is a moment like that to lead me to feel blessed.
Do you know that there is a disease that keeps people from such experiences? Ben Campbell Johnson, a seminary professor, writes about it in his book, “Living Before God”. He calls that disease “life-sleep.” Life-sleep, Campbell Johnson says, is “a peculiar state of existence in which persons function effectively in the external world with little, if any, awareness of either the depth of the world or their own personal depth. Most who sleep through life don’t even suspect, much less discover, what lies beneath the surface. Some even fail to wonder about the meaning of things. But most people, in my opinion, long to awaken to a fulfillment that has eluded them but can’t find the way into this mysterious depth.”
Life-sleep is like going on autopilot. When I’m not fully awake, my day is full of mindless routines: brushing my teeth, showering, going to work, making phone calls, driving home, watching TV, going to bed — all without really thinking about how wonderful it is to be alive in the first place. Life-sleep is never venturing out into the unknown, never taking any real risks, not because I am afraid but because the possibility never really occurred to me.
I’ll spend the better part of August on vacation, away from the office. I’ll meet a new grandson along the way and reunite with old friends. My wife and I will savor more time together. I think I would like to adopt the goal of waking up — opening my eyes and my heart a little wider, so I can see the far horizons and the nighttime stars. I’m looking forward to the feel of a baby’s breath on my cheek, and hopefully that will remind me how blessed I am, and how good it is to be alive.
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