2006-01-18 / Opinions & Letters

Midwest Memo

Space between
by Alan Shultz

I have a really cheap alarm clock. It’s a boxy plastic wood-grain affair I bought at the drug store. It has all the necessary little buttons to set the alarm and the time. The time is displayed in a digital read out, red numbers against a black background. It used to be quite easy to tell the time at a glance from across the room. However, a blurry look has developed over the years. I’m told it’s my eyes and not the cheap clock. I’m thinking maybe it’s a little of both.

I almost always wake up before the alarm goes off. The alarm itself may have trained me to accomplish this feat. The alarm bleats out a frantic, staccato noise that sounds much more urgent than simply a call to begin the day. A rooster’s crow would be a much kinder beginning to one’s day but the neighborhood roosters start their day later than I start mine.

When I awake before the alarm I have what I think of as “in between” time. It’s half rest, half prepare to begin kind of time. I roll up my pillow with the cool side out, prop my head up and watch the digital numbers change on the clock. The time in between the minute changes takes on more significance this way. The advancing minutes become a call to action, but the space in between takes the shape and feeling of a bonus rest.

It seems lately I’ve heard more speakers and read more authors talk and write about living in the moment, being present in the moment. I like the concept. And if you focus on the present moment, the space in between moments can take on their own increased significance.

I heard a critique of a jazz singer recently. The critique was of a famous woman, but I can’t recall just who. The music critic discussing this singer’s voice said that her music was as much about the notes as it was about the silent space in between the notes sung. don’t pretend to totally understand that critique, but I can appreciate the fact that tones properly spaced would allow one to appreciate each tone more than tones jammed up against one another.

Ever since I was introduced to the concept of being present in the moment I’ve become aware of how often I fail to do just that. If I’m on a phone call, and I have a call waiting, my focus used to move to the flashing light of the next call. That meant I was focused on neither conversation, not the one I was in, nor the one I was about to begin. Lately I’ve been trying the “take a message” routine. Maybe old dogs don’t learn new tricks, but they can sure try.

I know I’d be a thin person if I focused on the present moment during snack time. When faced with a row of cookies (specifically I’m imagining Girl Scout Thin Mints right now) the concept of space in between just simply does not exist for me. I’m imagining the next cookie and how it will taste while consuming the present one. I suspect that if I can get this concept of living in the present perfected in other areas of my life that cookie eating will follow. However, I think the “old dog/new tricks” adage carries much more weight, pardon the visual, when it comes to food.

So in the meantime, I’ve been working on this business of being both present in the moment and appreciating the “in between time.” And yes, I’m also in the market for an alarm clock with a sweeter call for one to begin the day. It’s either that, or I’ve got to find a more ambitious rooster.

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