Time & the Powdered Creamer Atoll

I have a morning routine that I rarely stray from.

I make my way into the kitchen shortly after my alarm goes off, look for the cat, give him his breakfast, defrost an English muffin, toast said muffin, doctor it up with a little peanut butter and blackberry jam on each side and then make a mug of instant coffee — heated at exactly 40 seconds in the microwave.

When the coffee is out and ready for its Splenda and powdered creamer, I can’t help but notice the way in which the stuff starts out like a snowy miniature mountain, then — as the coffee swallows it up — the mountain often becomes nothing more than a half-moon; it looks like part of an atoll that you’d find in the middle of the South Pacific.

I carry my mug of morning sanity back into the bathroom with me and place it on the counter so that it’s cooled down and ready for drinking by the time I’m done showering. It’s a maddeningly simple routine, and one whose simplicity seemingly implies that it could be broken at any time.

Not so.

In its simplicity rests great peace, and starting out my day not only with coffee — but also with a helping of comfort — is mandatory.

Check out a little bit regarding the atolls online. I find them fascinating. Aside from the fact that I’ve always been fascinated by the word “lagoon,” I was even more enchanted when I found out many years ago that this weird thing called an “atoll” is a coral island that either fully or partially encircles one. Lovely.

While mesmerized by my dwindling mountain of powdered creamer this morning, the dissolving halted at its usual place — right as there was a small sliver of reef left in my sea of coffee. It stuck around and didn’t seem like it was going anywhere. I waited for about 20 more seconds to see if something would end up swallowing it up, but nothing did.

Impatient and ready to get on with the morning, I gave it a stir and my small island was demolished as instantly as my freeze-dried coffee grounds had been a few moments before. Something in my brain decided to go uber-random (read: haywire) and made me start thinking about our lives here, and — really — how small they are.

Who’s to say we’re not the human equivalent of Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who! and we’re in our own little world, oblivious to the fact that others may know we exist? Maybe the duration of time that we’d consider a lifetime is equivalent to a lifetime in the world of something that gets swallowed up every morning by my coffee in mere seconds.

OK, not likely, and maybe I’m just struggling for something to write about late on a Saturday night. The point is that we don’t know when it’s all going to end — either for ourselves, or for humanity as a whole. Maybe humanity won’t ever, or if it will, maybe we’ll never see the day. But everything has an end, and we’re all getting closer to our own — whether it’s 5 years or 50 years away.

Not to be morbid, but tonight I’m thankful for the reminder that everything could be swallowed up and cease to exist — even ourselves — without so much as a moment’s notice. Atolls didn’t get there overnight, just as our lives as we know them weren’t created in the blink of an eye. And they’ll keep on changing, either expanding or dipping just under the surface of the water here and there.

But while we have our heads above water, don’t we owe it to ourselves to enjoy the sun, the waves, the seabirds — or any grouping of things that we consider equally rejuvenating? Maybe it’s knitting, reading or gardening. Perhaps it’s yoga, a quiet cup of tea and painting. For me, these days it’s music, playwriting and a tie between driving aimlessly and a great glass of wine. It’s a nice reminder, indeed, to find our passions and enjoy them while we can. Our powdered creamer atoll’s time is ticking.

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