06/01/2015 02:38 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Waking Up Twice

Once upon an autumn morning years ago, I woke up on the wrong side of the bed. I was in a bad mood the moment I swung my legs over the bedside and my feet hit the floor. My mood grew even darker when I read the note my wife had left for me next to the coffee maker, listing all the household chores I needed to finish before she got back from shopping. That evening we'd be hosting a dinner party with old friends, and she'd gone to the farmer's market to buy the food she was going to cook, leaving me to clean the house and set the dining room table according to her instructions, with the good linen, crystal wine glasses and blue china.

As I surveyed the job in front of me, my bad mood made the dust, dirt and chores seem greater than they actually were. I resented my wife for leaving me with this "mess," which was ridiculous. Her task of preparing dinner for eight was far more difficult than my task of cleaning the house, but I resented her anyway.


I attacked the house grumbling as I went, and even cursed an appliance that my wife needed fixed when a screw wouldn't budge. In my carelessness the screwdriver slipped, gouging into my knuckle. As I bandaged the wound, I grumbled about the day, as if it were some Greek god conspiring against me. Then, in another act of carelessness, I dropped one of the crystal wine glasses and it nearly broke. The wine glasses were a family heirloom, dear to my heart and the jolt of fright at almost breaking one snapped me out of my runaway negativity. The adrenaline woke me up, this time on the right side of the bed. I sat down and took stock of myself, and began calming my mind by dismissing the next stressful thought my brain was inclined to churn-up. Gradually my mind cleared, making room for me to choose to be at peace. As I made that choice, a D. H. Lawrence poem I'd memorized long ago came to mind and I began to recite it to myself, as if it were a prayer:

As we live, we are transmitters of life.
And when we fail to transmit life, life fails to flow through us.
But if, as we work, we can transmit life into our work,
life, still more life, rushes into us to compensate, to be ready
and we ripple with life through the days.

Even if it is a woman making an apple dumpling, or a man a stool, if life goes into the pudding, good is the pudding, good is the stool, content is the woman, with fresh life rippling in to her, content is the man.

Give, and it shall be given unto you
is still the truth about life.
It means kindling the life-quality where it was not,
even if it's only in the whiteness of a washed pocket-handkerchief.

My attitude shifted. At that very moment, a cloud blocking the sun passed and the sunlight flooded through the windows and lit up the room. It seemed as if the light coming into the room and the light coming on inside of me were linked. All at once, life was good again. I felt alive and awake, as bright as this sunlit moment. I went back to work on my chores in a kind of effortless effort that began to flow like a dance.

As I was raking the last of the leaves in front of the house, a bird flying by caught my eye, and I watched it land in the Japanese maple tree across the street. The scarlet red color of the maple leaves was magnificent. I looked down the street and was taken in by the way the winter light had made the barren limbs of the sycamores gleam like polished silver. From where I stood, the street gradually sloped down to the avenue, and across the avenue was a large field and above it a falcon was fluttering in midair. For a moment, I felt completely at peace and at one with the world I now beheld.

When I walked back to the house, my heart was smiling and I thought, if I hadn't kindled the life-quality where it was not -- meaning my attitude -- I never would have experienced that joyful, peaceful moment of oneness.

Poem, D. H. Lawrence, "We Are Transmitters," Selected Poems (New York: Viking, 1959), 105, Part of public domain. Image of red Japanese maple, part of public domain.