July 31, 2006

Good day, team,

This week’s challenge comes from something my grandmother–Nana–used to say in response to a variety of circumstances. It’s a wonderful piece of wisdom and a reminder as well.

Each summer my family and I would travel to Maine to see my grandparents. It was a long drive, so the first morning after arriving, we would sleep in. Nana was always awake before everyone else, and the first thing she did was make coffee in the old percolator she kept on the stove. After awhile, members of the family would make their way down to the kitchen, and she’d greet us by saying, “Time to wake up and smell the coffee.” She’d hand us a cup, and the day would begin.

My relatives always sat around the dining room table after dinner and drank coffee. I never understood how they could sleep at night with that perked coffee running through their veins. They’d sit around the table and chat about this and that and sooner or later someone would tell a story about someone in the town who’d done something stupid. These were stories about local folks who, in their daily experience, had been forgetful in some way or another. For example, the tale could be about Charley down at the filling station who’d left someone’s gas cap off again, or how Ellie at the library had forgotten to close the windows last night and a whole bunch of new paperbacks had blown off the shelf. There would always be a pause at the end of the story (I think to give everyone a chance to ponder the significance of the story), and in that pregnant pause Nana would say, “Well, they should wake up and smell the coffee!” Everyone would nod in agreement and take another sip.

I remember when my cousin George flunked algebra in high school. Nana wrote to him and among other things said, “George, it’s time to wake up and smell the coffee. Otherwise, you won’t make it to college.” We were all grateful that we weren’t George that year and the thought of being reminded by Nana to “wake up” kept many of us with C and above averages. Even when my father left my mother after 18 years of marriage, Nana’s first bit of advice to Mom was “Well, honey, time to wake up and smell the coffee. He’s just gone, and there’s nothing else to be done. We all have to go on.”

Nana died many years ago, and I’m happy to say she had a long and satisfying life. She was the kind of grandmother who never intended on being wise or making statements that the family would continue to quote for years after she was gone. She just lived her life as best she could and tried to pay attention to whatever came her way. She seemed to understand that worrying about something if it wasn’t in front of you was a distraction. There was enough to deal with in each moment, and any speculation about what could go wrong or what might happen in the future just prevented her from dealing with whatever the moment delivered.

While Nana was alive, it never occurred to me how her use of this phrase would affect me. And yet, this simple homespun phrase has become a cornerstone of my life. A day doesn’t go by that I don’t hear her reminding me. She reminds me to wake up so I don’t miss something or become forgetful. And she also reminds me to wake up so I accept life, just as it is. The fact that she added in the part about “smell the coffee” was her way of sharing something she enjoyed every day of her life.

Your challenge this week is to “wake up and smell the coffee”-or the tea, or the chai, or whatever brew is part of your morning ritual. We can use this ritual to remember to wake up and experience whatever is happening in the moment. It can also remind us to accept life-just as it is.

Have a great week!


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