One of the people in the next block keeps chickens. I wouldn’t have realized this save for the fact that I decided to walk to work this morning (more on why I did that later…) and so, a few minutes before “official” sunrise, I heard a cock crow.
Now, I’ve been out on my bike at this time of morning many times, and I’ve never heard that cock crow. Why? Because I’m too busy concentrating on something else. I’m enjoying that first rush of speed as I roll down the hill just south of my house, and so that’ where I focus. I don’t have time for a crowing rooster.
Why does a cock crowing at sunrise hold such a place in our mythology? Any movie that wants to establish that one of its settings is a farm can open with the sound of a rooster crowing. It’s built into children’s stories. It’s central to the story of Peter in the New Testament. It’s a cliché. How come?
Well, because roosters do crow at sunrise. But they crow at other times, too. But when the sun is coming up, the world is pretty quiet, well, that’s when we notice the cock crowing. That’s not to say it doesn’t crow at other times, but that morning is the time when we are most likely to notice the event.
But more often than not (as the cock teaches us), we don’t notice things. We put things off because they’re not important, and so we manage not to notice deadlines slipping by—or time slipping by, time that we should be spending with our significant others, spouses, children, parents. We just don’t notice. In a world full of technology the primary function of which is to provide us with constant entertainment and diversion, noticing things gets hard. And it’s not just entertainment; we are so damnably busy!
Bruce Cockburn has used the phrase “trying to amuse ourselves to death under the deep sky.”
It comes to mind here.
What we fail to notice can be big or small, important or trivial. But don’t confuse the two—not everything that we fail to notice that’s big is also important, and not everything small that we fail to notice is trivial. For example, my spouse doesn’t pay attention to the sounds her car makes. A small tick, a click, can be a signal that something is very wrong, but that such something may not become big until, suddenly, something falls apart. Likewise on bicycles. A certain mindfulness is required if we are to find the small sounds that indicate the potential for important problems.
Last night, out on a group ride, I was diverted by the conversation of one of my fellow riders, and so I didn’t notice, going through a gate, that my left pedal was not going to clear that gate. I hit it, and my bike twisted and went down. I wasn’t really hurt—a couple of bruises—but I could have been. The bike wasn’t even scratched. Bit it could have been. I failed to pay attention to a small thing, but only by luck or the grace of god (take your pick) did I avoid serious injury. Anyway, that’s why I decided to walk to work this morning. I’m not hurt, I just decided to take a break and try to reacquaint myself with the notion of being mindful.
And that’s why I heard the cock crow this morning.
We need to be mindful. We need to notice that the pedal’s going to hit the post. We need to hear the cock crow. We need to notice the stars overhead and the smell of autumn in the woods. We need to notice when the price of gasoline goes up and when it goes down and, in spite of last night’s debate, realize that such increases have less to do with the President than with international relations, foreign policy, the state of the market, and the supply of readily-available oil, plus a couple dozen other things.
We need to realize the fact that our country is at war, and that Americans (and Afghanis, Iraqis, and Pakistanis) are dying on a daily basis in a conflict that actually has a lot more to do with the price of oil than it does with saintly notions of democracy.
Open your ears—and eyes.