I have lots of memories of the days I used to wake up before the sun had risen. Lately I have been so spoiled I’ve been able to sleep in until at least the sun was somewhat out and about, but I haven’t always been that lucky.
Today I had to wake up at 6 in order to leave my house by 7 so I could be on campus at 8 in time to get a parking spot. It was far from the first time I had to drag myself out of bed in what felt like the middle of the night. In high school, even middle school, I typically woke up before the sun in order to make it to school on time. Whenever we went on trips when I was little, we were usually on the road while it was still dark. During the awful moves from Arizona to California and from California to Florida, we left our home early enough to watch the sun rise from the highway.
All of these memories came to me this morning as I was driving along my merry way to class. I left early enough to miss most of the traffic, but whenever I did have to hit the brakes and cruise along at a snail’s pace on the road, I looked around at the beautiful Arizona landscape – the mountains, the dawn’s fog clinging to the horizon, the way the saguaros stood against the lightening sky. Increasingly, though, I found myself fascinated by my fellow drivers. As I looked around at the people driving beside me, you know what I saw all throughout my drive?
Men in collared shirts and ties talking on their cell phones.
Women in nice blouses and pearls sipping their coffee.
Some of these people drove nice cars, some didn’t. Some seemed ready to take on the day, some were putting on lipstick or straightening shirt collars as they drove. They all had one thing in common: they were all staring blankly ahead in exhaustion.
Maybe I’m over-analyzing the way those drivers sat and tapped their fingers on their steering wheels. They were all probably just tired and unaware that a 21-year-old college student was creepily curiously watching them from her Corolla.
But something about being stuck in traffic with a bunch of full-time participants of society struck me. It reminded me of my worst memory of waking up early: the previous winter when I got roped into running one of the faraway offices for the medical clinic I worked at while their usual secretary was on vacation. For two weeks I was leaving my house by 6:55 in the morning and arriving at work at 7:30. I would walk into work just as the sun was peeking out above the horizon. I did not see it again until my lunch break at 12:30 and would sadly watch it set as I began my trek home at 4:30.
Those days sucked. They sucked big time.
Looking around at the tired, impatient people hurrying to get to their 8 to 5 jobs reminded me that I was one of them today on this cold January morning. If I hadn’t quit that medical clinic job, I’d still be one of them. And if I don’t follow the path I so desperately want to go down when I graduate, I will end up like them.
And then with this resolution come lots of other thoughts such as the fact that I’m in my early twenties and going to graduate soon and I’m already paying bills and drinking coffee too much. And one of these days I might just have to accept the fact that I’m turning into the boring grown up I swore I’d never be when I was little. But for now, I have a defiant little voice in my head that sees me through these episodes, the same little part of me that glanced at her fellow drivers in sympathy this morning:
You’re not a grown up yet! that defiant part of my mind always chimes in whenever I think these thoughts, You’re still in school! You still love chocolate milk! You don’t have kids! How on earth can you be a big scary grown up?
Why, the other part of me thinks reasonably, there’s no way, little voice. Not yet. Not me.
There’s a Faith Hill song called “American Heart” that I haven’t stopped humming all day, and the first line goes: “She’s up before the sun, on the run… another dollar, ‘nother day, another cup of coffee…”
That’s how I felt today. And while I sure the hell don’t feel like an official grown up just yet, for now, as I drive to class while the sun rises, I can totally act the part.