News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Opinion Columns

September 16, 2012

STEIGER COUNTER: Morning not just a time of day, it’s an emotion

TERRE HAUTE — During church last Sunday, one of the hymns was “Morning Has Broken,” popularized by Cat Stevens in the early 1970s. As the organist played the first few bars and the congregation began to sing, I experienced one of those emotional waves that only music causes; that spine-tingling, goose-bump raising, overwhelming emotional rush. It surprised me and for the rest of the service I sat contemplating why had I reacted so strongly to this song? Nothing like church to prompt introspection.

I am a morning person, easily rising early daily, even when I don’t really want to, around 5-ish. Always been this way; scientists tell us that some are wired this way and others are not. I’m definitely wired that way, as I suspect my father was.

My psychologist colleagues likely would point to some aspect of personality for both early rising and the emotional reaction to the song. I can shoe-horn myself into a psychological profile: I like beginnings better than endings (you can tell that by looking at my many started projects that never seem to get finished). I have a fairly short memory for bad things, each day is new, why hold onto yesterday’s crap (and frankly why hang on to the good stuff … today’s is new!). The nutritionist might point to the need for coffee.

While I like coffee, I don’t drink enough anymore for a coffee jones to explain my “morningness” or my emotional response to that tune.

As a sociologist, I tend to lean toward explanations of behavior in terms of socialization, relationships, situations, and perhaps values, which include the entire range of motivators, economics, and other types of reward systems. Sociological explanations are not for individual persons but for the entire class of “morningphiles.”

As I contemplated through the morning prayer, I noted that I spent my childhood and youth waking early with my dad. He rose every day at 5:30 a.m. As he headed for the kitchen to make coffee, he would turn on my bedroom light. I’d pad out to the “Florida” room, exchange a few words with Dad, who was not much of a talker, as he settled into his morning routine, which included watching the sunrise, the animal action in our backyard, and girding himself for a day of work that he was not all that fond of.

I, by the time I was in school, had my own routine that included reading the newspaper, front page to the classifieds, and making myself breakfast. My mother, who was not an early riser, made me independent and self-reliant, qualities I hope my wife and daughters appreciate. This routine lasted until I left home for college and resumed anytime I was home.

I also spent many special mornings with my dad. He was an avid bass fisherman and we spent many a weekend fishing. Getting on the water before dawn was always a goal. He and I spent many mornings on Florida lakes and rivers.  

While I appreciate the solitude that being the first one up provides (that and a hot shower), I also enjoy sharing morning with others. Because my wife works on a factory schedule (public school) and I do not, I dealt with our daughters, waking them, fixing them breakfast, getting them going. One daughter is a morningphile and one a morningphobe. They are now gone from the house, but I still have the dog. She and I have our own routine that includes barking at the dark and morning carrots.

Even on vacations, I rise early, and like to find a neat place to sit, sip coffee (check email and read the newspaper online now) and talk with other morning junkies. I enjoy the morning light, its coolness, its freshness, and as the song notes, “the sweetness of the wet garden.”

I always feel good in the morning, every morning. It is not too much a stretch to say, I go to bed at night looking forward to another morning.

I’m not sure this introspective discourse explains my emotional reaction Sunday. As I reflect on what I just wrote and think about how to end this essay, I can’t help but observe that I associate mornings with my most intimate relationships. Not sure that is why I reacted so to “Morning Has Broken,” but I know today is a good day because it is early afternoon and the light and feel of the day still has a morning quality to it.

Thomas L. Steiger is a professor of sociology and director of the Center for Student Research and Creativity at Indiana State University. Email thomas.steiger@indstate.edu.

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