Annie D. Stutley
Jan 15, 2023
"...words are also just hollowed statements to avoid the truth. It’s far too tempting a cover-up. We love ideals, but we don’t like what they require."
I’m a snooze-a-holic. I’m as devoted to hitting that snooze button as I should be to Jesus, and I love an extra seven minutes of shut-eye as much as I love the Oxford comma. Nonetheless, starting around 2013, I began each year with the same half-assed promise.
“This year, I will wake up an hour earlier than everyone else in the house. I will pray. I will meditate. Furthermore, I will exercise. I will enjoy a cup of hot coffee in solitude, and by the time I rouse my disheveled bunch from sleep, I will be energized from an hour’s worth of care for my needs. Then I’ll hit my goals and win the day.”
Of course, this never happens. Not one year, not one month, week, and not even one day.
So this year, I didn’t even attempt to make the promise, not to save face, but because I knew it was a lie. But not just any lie. A sunrise lie.
I spend much of my time in my car. I have one kid in junior high and two teenagers, a cheerleader, a football player, and a swimmer. I’m editor and writer by day, Uber mom after 4 pm. In the evening, I take the long way home whenever possible, turning west to see what colors the sky has painted for me and how different they are from the night before. Even the average sunsets catch my breath. I’ve toasted the sunset on many, many occasions. I also love long lingering dinners. I read far too late into the night. And if I get an idea for a blog, an article, or a book at midnight, I write it down immediately. Some of my best prompts have come to me while I’m slathering retinol and nighttime moisturizer on my face. Subsequently, some of my best work happens shortly after.
All of this is to say that I cling to a day until the very last second more than I’m energized by its start. I don’t spring out of bed. Ever. I’m reluctant to say goodbye, though. Every evening. Always. In straight talk, I’m a classic night owl.
But I’m also realistic. The bulk of my life happens before the sun sets, and I can’t be late.
As I mentioned, much of my life happens in the car. More precisely, to and from swim practice with the Golden Boy. After one December practice, he collapsed into the passenger seat. He looked like he’d just swum the English Channel. No, he looked like he’d just fought the English Channel. His face was flushed. His hair was more tousled than usual. His breathing was heavy, and I could tell buckling his seatbelt required extra effort. Yet strangely, his attitude was not that of someone who’d just fought the English Channel.
“Ma!” he exclaimed. (It should be noted for purposes of future historic reference that it was at this moment when I was demoted from Mom to Ma. Mommy to Mom was years ago. Bruh has yet to find its way into the boy’s son-to-mother vernacular.)
“I just swam a 200 Fly and guess what my time was? 2:29.”
My usual silence followed as I studied his expression, gauging the quality of a 2:29 200 Fly. It’s a necessary swim mom skill. All signs pointed to “2:29 for his age is a good thing.”
“That’s great!” I smiled.
“Well, it’s not as good as some people, but I’ve just started on this event.”
“Yeah, but 200 Fly? You must have been so relieved when you hit the wall. How exhausting,” I said.
“I don’t really think about the wall, actually. I just focus on the stroke. I mean, eventually I’m gonna hit the wall.”
“Yeah, but doesn't it hurt your shoulders?”
“Ma, pain is temporary. I’ll get to the wall faster if all I worry about is what I’m doing and not where I’m going.”
Well crap... Here comes Baby Buddha again with all the big wisdom.
So, I drove my pocket Yoda home, wondering from which interview of which athlete he just pulled such an inspirational message or if he’s just that wise after all. Mostly, I thought about another year of not toasting the sunrise and being unproductive. Do I really need to be a morning person, I asked myself. Again. And then I thought of a new question: is my obstacle really the snooze button?
A few days later, I realized my obstacle was even more seductive than that.
Over the holidays I watch a lot of Hallmark Christmas movies. I find the predictability comforting. Girl from big city finds herself in a dilly of a pickle. Girl goes home for the holidays to regroup. Girl’s high school boyfriend still lives there. He builds staircases and lives in a giant log cabin. They fall in love…. again, but tomfoolery just before the town’s annual tree lighting almost breaks them up... again. But then they find the other piece of a long-lost, broken Christmas ornament in the town curmudgeon’s attic. They know it’s a sign they should get married. Girl leaves the big city forever and cans homemade cranberry sauce in a log cabin for the rest of her life. The End.
But one particular ending caught my attention. Just before the snow began to fall as our rekindled high school sweethearts locked lips, the boy (I think his name was Edmond or the like) said to the girl, (whose name was probably Celeste or... Noelle, haha) “I love you.” And she said, “I love you, too -- everything it means to love you.”
Does she mean leaving the city to live in a log cabin and can cranberries? Was that a subtle dig at a guy for whom she uprooted her life? Or, is our Hallmark heroine simply doubling down, admitting the reality of the challenge but vocalizing its worth so she can’t back out? I’d never spent so long questioning the subtext of a Hallmark movie. But schmaltzy, formulaic plot analyses aside, why the tacked-on disclaimer, Noelle?
We know words are often just words, hollowed statements for the sake of having said something. How many times have you said the following to someone you haven’t seen lately: “We should get together soon,” knowing full well you probably won’t. How many times have you spoken about a charity you want to give to or volunteer for, or a project you want to complete in your home? How often do you actually follow through? We want to get together with friends until it's too inconvenient. We want to give more until we realize its cost. I want to embrace my day and be productive until I realize how hard it will be.
More notably, words are also just hollowed statements to avoid the truth. It’s far too tempting a cover-up. We love ideals, but we don’t like what they require. Every year I make this empty promise not because I want to see the sun rise, but because I don’t want to fight my day anymore in order to keep up. I want to “hit the wall” -- lots and lots of walls -- day after day. Only, I likely won’t, whether I wake up early or not -- not if I continue to spew words, tricking myself into avoiding the truth. The fact is, I’m not committed to hitting the wall. I’m intimidated by all of it -- the good, the bad, and the pain (though temporary) that I must experience to hit the walls I want to hit before I watch my last sunset.
Words imply a message, whether we mean them to or not. Words hurt, inspire, disgust, and heal. Words carry so much power that we censor them. Or they unite so gloriously that we preserve them. But words, as moving as they can be, are truly worthless when the one who speaks them has no intention of giving them any meaning at all. In those instances, they’re no better than a sunrise lie. Every dawn begins with the best intentions, but unless the people for whom the sun has risen embrace the day, should the sun have bothered rising at all?
So this year, I didn’t say anything about waking up early or making any promises about some personal Kumbaya hour in the morning. But I know enough to know that I’m a night owl living in an early bird’s world. Yet, as I embark on my next event, I’m not going to worry about walls to hit or labels to achieve. This year, all I told myself, and all I’m saying to you is this: “I’m just gonna do my work and do it well.” Or, as the woman from that tiny town in the middle of nowhere Mississippi so wisely put it last May when I fretted about how in Sam hill I was going to house-train the golden retriever puppy I’d just adopted: “Oh, Darlin’,” she said. “You’ll get ‘er done. Just get ‘er done.”
I won’t publicly pledge to wake up much earlier than usual this year. I will likely continue my affair with the evening star. But I will get ‘er done — and everything it means. What I’m doing and how I’m doing it is more important than where I’m going. It’s the work, not the goal. If the work is lackluster, I’ll never hit any wall anyway, at least not in due time.
The statements we make are hard to live out, but if we actually do love ourselves enough to know a sunrise lie when we tell it, we just might refocus our energy where we need it most. We’ll hit that wall one day, and when we do, we may even spring out of bed to celebrate.
Annie D. Stutley lives and writes in New Orleans, La. She edits several small publications and contributes to various print and online magazines. Her blog, "That Time You," was ranked in the Top 100 Blogs by FeedSpot. To read more of her work, go to herwebsite, or follow her at@anniedstutley orAnnie D. Stutley-writeron Facebook.