Seize the day
“Rise and shine!” the expression goes, harking back to times when the early morning did mean looking forward to a bright new day.
These days we wake up grumbling and mumbling, not so much because we want a bit more sleep as because we’re forced to start the day battling the traffic, whether driving our own vehicle, taking public transport, or even walking.
I’ve been relatively fortunate, living on campus in UP Diliman, where I work. But twice a week I have to be in San Juan to check on my elderly parents, and when they’re in hospital it’s almost every day that I visit.
When I stay overnight, I have to time my drive back to UP the next morning to avoid gridlock caused by three private schools in the Greenhills/Ortigas area as well as two private schools on Katipunan, the final stretch before I get into UP. That means leaving San Juan around 5 a.m. to be on the safe side.
I’m talking then of really early morning drives that carry traces of the tranquil “olden days.” Traces. If you go through smaller streets outside subdivisions, you’ll find the city stirring with elderly people, usually women, already awake, sitting out on the porch or, more often, sweeping in the house or the street in front of the house.
I remember my mother walking to Mass every morning, not too early but still early, all of one kilometer, which was quite a feat considering that she did this until she was in her early 80s. I had to dissuade her from continuing the habit; I had the driver take her because I worried about not only all the cars rushing to take children to school but also the polluted air during those hours. (At UP, the house assigned to me is on C.P. Garcia, from where one can smell the diesel emissions of trucks driving by all night.)
As the sun rises you find more and more people on the streets, and with so many night-shift workers—health personnel, outsourced staff—it’s hard to tell who’s going to or getting off work. The saddest part is most of them look tired and haggard in those early hours.
Public transport isn’t too full yet, with jeepneys parked along the streets waiting for passengers. There are bikers, working-class, and a few motorcyclists. There are mothers, sometimes fathers, walking their children to school. I was shocked to learn recently that some public schools start their morning shifts really early because they have to take two more shifts during the day.
The pace during this early morning commuting is slow, almost leisurely, certainly not a rush yet. But that can tempt motorists to press harder on the gas pedal, worried that if they don’t, then they’ll get caught in traffic. A few minutes can make a world of a difference, and it seems that as more people try to avoid the rush, the definition of “early” gets pushed back to, well, “really early.”
I find myself more alert, more tense, all too aware that more car crashes occur when there are fewer cars on the road, and during that liminal period between night and day. At one extreme, there are drivers—bus drivers especially—who convert the roads into a racetrack and drive with homicidal speed, perhaps driven by shabu.
But shabu or no shabu, people do become more reckless in the early morning, with tragic results. Last Sunday a man driving a Hummer made a counterflow on V. Luna Street in Quezon City, plowing into a motorcycle and killing two young men. The collision reportedly occurred at 5:25 a.m. The newspapers had photographs of one of the men’s mothers, all hysterical, as she confronted the killer.
I’m calling a spade a spade: These are bully killers, whether bus drivers or drivers of vehicles like Hummers, driven to impunity by the size of their vehicles. Count in the truck drivers trying to beat the truck ban. Reading the report, I thought about what some psychologists have suggested: an inverse relationship between the size of the vehicles and of a private asset, and the need for such men to compensate with large vehicles driven at high speed.
There we have it—rise and shine becoming almost a joke, given the choice between coping with dangerous early morning traffic and stewing in a gridlock.
That’s when “seize the day”—in Latin, “carpe diem”—can become more meaningful. Find ways to start the day better. Breakfast may have to be rushed, but don’t skip it. I make a little time to “sit” (meditate), brew tea, some to drink before leaving and the rest poured into a thermos to take on the road. A lingering goodbye to my parents, and one more attempt to get my son awake (usually with a bribe—sigh—to pick up breakfast in a fast-food place.
In the car, I don’t listen to the news because it might break the day (who wants to start the day with news of the night’s extrajudicial killings, which now occur daily?). I put on classical music sometimes, on the cell phone because the only classical station in town isn’t on air yet.
I’ve learned, too, that sometimes, you don’t need the radio, or music. Early mornings are good times for thinking. I become more observant—part of defensive driving but part as well of an attempt to think, and see good in the day ahead.
You’ll be surprised how much there is to see in these early morning drives, bringing joy. The scenes of the elderly, for one: I sometimes want to stop the car, greet a lola sweeping the street and wishing her a long and healthy life.
One morning last week, as I began to fret thinking of how I woke up “late” and that it was already 5:30 and I was still on Ortigas, I saw a woman in blue scrubs—which meant she was a health caregiver or professional—crossing the road. She was smiling in a way that made you understand why we call smiling “beaming.” When she got to the other side of Ortigas she moved toward a motorcycle, her face becoming resplendent as she drew near.
A man was waiting on the motorcycle and she began to speak to him, visibly animated, as she put on a helmet. It had a Medical City sticker, so I figured she had just gotten off from work at that hospital.
Then she paused, and hugged the man—the kind of superhug you see at airports. She got on the motorcycle and hugged him again, or so I thought. No, she was now holding on to him in a way that spoke of missing him, loving him.
Make my day, I thought, beaming.
We can make our days; we can seize our day from the darkness.