Forget the old saw, “the early bird gets the worm,” but the early morning holds an intriguing fascination for me. Looking out the window or, better still, walking about the garden or a new town I am visiting when the light is itself just waking up agitates endorphins and raises desire hackles in my heart of hearts.
Many of my favorite memories, certainly the most recurring ones, are set in the early morning. Merely remembering them is enjoyable and this is all I intend to do here.
The whys may wait till kingdom come and may never be addressed. Investigating the reason why this or why that can be delightful in its own way but questions are not answered: the journey towards the answers is the matter. Going on the journey, as in an essay, is trial and error, exploring the known that we reach the unknown.
The earliest memories are of waking up in my grandmother’s house at La Granja. Before the other cousins are up, I quietly put on my clothes while looking out the window at the garden below, then sauntering among Tatay Cente’s flowers, some still with dew on them. I go around and surprise the orange lilies (we called them lirio) putting out new buds or gaze in amazement at the gold fish darting in the clear water of the water lily pond in front of the veranda with its harlequin black-and-white tiles.
Back up there I may sit in the swing in the corner under the tall palm tree with edible, strange-tasting nuts or visit the clay pots of begonias that my aunt, my grandmother’s youngest child, tends. She is the begetter of my love for houseplants just as Tatay Cente is of my love for outdoor gardens. So I am not going into the whys but resisting the hypothesizing is a temptation I am not going to deny. In these ancient memories are imbedded the images that continue to shape my desires today.
Early mornings may represent the first part of the day, most of it still awaiting to ambush us. Maybe this is their attraction. Remembering moments of the early morning slings us back to when the world is fresh and new and we are just starting our lives, before the mistakes, before the discoveries. It’s like having our jar of cherries just opened and full again.
Another early morning memory is of the morning I arrive in Manila after a two-decade absence. I can’t sleep so at four in the morning I put on my running shorts and shoes and run about Baclaran, famous pilgrimage site for the same Virgin patroness of my hometown. The locals look askance at this Filipino in unfamiliar shorts – Filipino men don’t go about in shorts – as I gleefully encounter the early morning market vendors setting up their wares, fishermen returning with last night’s catch from the bay, and people rushing to the over-the-street Metro train station to get to work.
Early morning is busy time for most working people. On vacation or when work no longer matters, having leisure to enjoy the light, the air and its smells, the whip of the breeze or the whiff of flowers enticing their propagators to their sexual parts: these are delights of a common man, me.
Another early morning memory is of walking from our temporary “guest house” in Palawan to my cousin-in-law’s house for breakfast. The small town atmosphere beguiles with its familiar but half-forgotten images and the sensations raise anticipation for family gatherings, occasions I don’t know matter to me. Families are often sources of hurt and emotional beatings as much as they are of joy and delight but this morning they are delicious, like the sweet rice cakes and hot native chocolate that are childhood’s treats.
And there is another early morning on my second trip back to the Philippines, this time with my older sister. We drive out of Manila in my other sister’s friend’s truck and settle for the night at a brand-new roadside hotel still redolent of newly applied stucco and paint. The others still sleeping I sneak out to the open-air hallway to hear cocks crow as the light begins to illumine the coconut and banana trees, hibiscus and other tropical shrubs I don’t have here in America. It’s the sweetness of the return of the prodigal, a bittersweet realization as sweet as anything I’ve known till then.
All these memories are present today, the mornings of my world that stay eternally young and fresh, even as the body ages and beliefs stiffen as driftwood in the stream of a moment’s swift passage. Mornings, beginnings, are as present now as the endings, all the sweetness with the bitter comprising what we are, what I am today.