I know, it’s hard… The bed is soft, warm and cozy while the reality outside of your queen sized cocoon is not. I get it, but I am here to convince you to wake up early anyway. Before you roll your eyes and think that I am just like every other (crazy) morning person who you can’t relate to, let me tell you that I used to struggle with this enormously. During my college years, getting up before 9 seemed like a completely absurd exercise, much like running a marathon or bungee jumping.
While I have been waking up at 6AM on autopilot for the better part of the last 4 years, I didn’t realize the value of waking up early until an unusually warm September morning last year. That Tuesday began like any other. In total darkness, I rubbed my eyes and reached out to grab my phone that gingerly rested on the nightstand. Time-check, 6.15AM… I panic and leap out of bed.
“Bruno, breakfast!” I yell, as I am followed by my spunky cavalier, who wastes no time devouring his meal. I run to the closet, grab a shirt dress that is neither long enough, nor formal enough to be considered “work appropriate” but in the ten minutes left to leave the house and still make my morning train, rules of dressing appropriately just won’t apply. With a serious case of bedhead, bare face and the aforementioned inappropriate work attire, I am out the door within minutes, and on my way to Grand Central hoping not to miss my 6.59 daily train.
RUNNING AGAINST THE CLOCK
The streets seem emptier than usual, no dogs dragging their tired owners for their morning walks or type-As with lattes in hand sprinting to the gym. Today, it’s just me, dragging Bruno through the midtown maze of skyscrapers. I get to Grand Central’s side doors on 43rd Street; firmly locked. I sigh and mutter to myself, with my usual flair for the dramatic, “of course, another obstacle in my way,” and start sprinting towards the main doors like a hysterical ostrich.
Out of breath, I slow down and reach for the door handles and make my way inside Grand Central Station. I swiftly move past a group of people standing next to the subway escalators and maneuver around metal barriers. As I do this, two officers approach me in a ridiculously tiny vehicle best described as a cross between a smart car and a Segway. “You can’t come in yet”, one of the officers warns “The station doesn’t open until 5.30.”
In a flash of realization, much like when Bruce Willis recognizes he was dead all along in the Sixth Sense (spoiler alert!), I conclude that the clock must have read 4.15 and not 6.15. My blurry eyesight presumed the worst. I turn around and shamefully walk towards the row of tired faces standing patiently behind the barricades and check my watch for the first time since leaving home; 5.10 AM, it clearly read.
There are a few reactions one may have in this situation, anger, and frustration, being strong contenders. I, however, chose the less conventional option, which was to find this absolutely hysterical. I look down at Bruno, who is watching me with his usual perplexed expression and laugh.
As I stand there smirking, a slightly disheveled, and very likely hungover man approaches me. The usual small talk ensues. What is my dog’s name, do I bring Bruno to work with me every day? Look at how well behaved he is (false!), etc., etc. We exchange names, and the conversation progresses to why we are both at a station at an absurd hour in the morning. I say I am always here pretty early but not usually at this time and leave it at that. He missed the last train the night before and had been wandering around midtown waiting to the first train out to Stamford.
I sympathize and comment that had that happened to me, I would have just called a car to take me home. As I say this, a dismayed look washes over his face indicating this possibility hadn’t occurred to him before now. An Awkward silence fills the air. I begin to fidget and decide to check the time. “Hey want to hear a joke?” He says after a few more silent moments. I distractedly agree, even though my focus is actually on my watch that reads 5.26AM. Four precious minutes to go. I hear him set the scene, which involves penguins and the cinema while I feel the rush of adrenaline that had been pumping through me wear off.
“Do you get it?” He asks as the joke reaches its punchline. “Yes…” I reply politely. *or I would have if I had been listening* I think as I smile at him. I apologize for my lack of enthusiasm over the-movie-loving-penguins and say that all I can think about right now is a large cup of coffee.
The crowd begins moving around us as the officers who scolded me earlier finally remove the metal barriers and signal that we can move towards the open concourse. I turn to wish the hungover penguin joke-loving man a good day, but he is no longer by my side. I tug on Bruno’s leash and we begin walking towards the monitors with brightly lit track numbers. No sooner do I reach them, I hear my name. I turn to find that penguin guy is standing in behind me with two cups of coffee. He hands me one and wishes Bruno and me a good day. I smile, thank him for his kindness and we part ways.
STRANGERS ON A TRAIN
I board the first train out of New York. I decide to sit in the last car where the seats are in rows of three facing each over. Bruno leaps on my lap and wastes no time falling back into a deep sonorous sleep. The train begins to move as I pull out my iPad and catch up on Site Planning.
I am not sure at what point this happened, but not long into the train ride, I am surrounded by a lively group. They greet each other warmly and start chatting away. I sense I am sitting in their usual spot. I offer a half a smile to the elderly woman across from me. She takes this opportunity to smile back and incorporate me into the conversation. Bruno, blissfully snoring away, becomes a hot topic of conversation amongst the group. “What a good little commuter he is…”, “Not fan of mornings I see…” The lady reaches out to pet him and he immediately wakes and begins showering her with slobbery dog kisses.
She asks why she hadn’t seen me before… I smirk and recap my morning thus far. She bellows with laughter and continues telling me her life’s story, only stopping to greet new passengers boarding like they are old friends. As the empty seats fill up around us, I see more commuters greeting each other as if it’s happy hour.
“Wow everyone on this train is in such a great mood and so friendly,” I mention, with awe and with a hint of skepticism. “I should wake up this early more often…” I say. The friendly woman smiles and replies “Yeah, we do this every day. We like to make sure everyone’s day starts off right.” *Mind blown.*
What a lovely attitude to bring to the world. I say goodbye to her before she disembarks. My usual train is filled with grumpy business types with heads buried in books and smartphones, ears covered by headphones, and a distinct air of “don’t bother me unless the train on fire.” It took me about a year of aggressively smiling at the same group of passengers who regularly sit across from me to get one of them to mumble a half-hearted “morning” in my direction.
WHEN IN DOUBT, GET COFFEE
The train is back to being near empty as we approached my stop. I gather my things, put Bruno in his carrier and step out into the station platform. The sun is shining brightly and the crisp morning breeze sweeps across my face. “I love mornings,” I mutter to myself and decide to make a Starbucks run before dropping off Bruno and going to work. Although I already had a nice cup of coffee, I warm spicy chai latte is always a good idea. After all, there are still two hours to kill.
I was no stranger to this Starbucks location, but at this early hour, it seemed completely different. Here too, the line is lively, almost animated… These adjectives I can safely say have never been used to describe the sleepy CT suburbs where I work. With drink ordered I proceed to the end of the bar waiting for it to be made.
Next to me, I notice a young woman with a lovely tote bag with pineapples printed against a cyan background. I about to compliment her, but before I can she turns to me and says that she loves my dress. I sheepishly thank her and tell her I was just about to say how much I liked her bag. We giggle like school girls before grabbing our drinks and going about our day. As I drive, in the final lap of my commute, I smile and mutter to myself what a great morning it’s been. “I should wake up this early every day.”
SO… WHY SHOULD YOU WAKE UP EARLY?
While free coffee and pleasant conversations are not guaranteed, I do believe early risers are in a better mood than most people encountered later in the day. Not much has happened yet and there is less of a chance that something upsetting has killed their happy disposition. Early risers tackle problems head on. Being around that kind enthusiasm for life becomes contagious.
I doubt that if I had chosen to react negatively upon realizing my mistake, I would have has such a lovely set of interactions that morning. So much of what happens to us is dictated by how we perceive the world and how we react to the events that occur around us. If you choose to be kind and open, a kind gesture in return is practically guaranteed. Make the best of every situation. Be grateful for your mistakes and yes, get up early. Choose to start the day off right… Even when the time is wrong.
Photography by Lydia Hudgens