(RNS) — Happy endings are enthralling. Novels and films are so often predicated on serendipitous salvations, unexpected escapes, miraculous rescues because we are addicted to the rush of relief — even fictional relief.
And when the peril is in the real world, the thirst for a happy ending is all the more intense. The world hoped as one this month as the Titan submersible, on its quest to view the Titanic’s wreck, fell out of contact with its monitors.
During the 80 hours when the fate of the craft and its crew was unknown, all caring people held out hope that the Titan and its occupants, surely enduring unimaginable anxiety and a dwindling supply of oxygen, might still be rescued.
It was a rare above-ground follower of the news who didn’t imagine himself shut into a cramped metal tube deep beneath the surface of the ocean, feeling the onset of suffocation.
In the end it was confirmed that, deep beneath the Atlantic Ocean on June 18, the five people who perished, blessedly, did not likely suffer before their demise. When the craft imploded, it was said to be an event as instantaneous as it was catastrophic. Water pressure at 12,500 feet below the surface — which is where the Titanic lies — is roughly 400 atmospheres, or 6,000 pounds per square inch. The hapless explorers went from life to death in literal milliseconds, unaware of the transition.
Still, what a wonderful miracle would have been celebrated had the happy ending actually happened. How enthralling it would have been to witness the jubilant welcome of the explorers as they emerged, wonderfully, into the light and fresh air, into the welcoming arms of their families and friends.
Imagine the immeasurable sense of gratitude that would have welled up in the hearts of the rescued and their loved ones, in every feeling heart.
And yet, consider that each of us undergoes a similar experience each and every day.
We wake up in the morning.
It’s not only the fact that in sleep we are unconscious, out of control, or that people can, and do, die in their sleep; or even that sleep, like death, is insistent and will only allow itself to be postponed so long.
The rabbis of the Talmud said something more; they considered sleep itself to be a virtual microcosm of death — “one sixtieth” of it, in their turn of phrase and thought.
Today we hardly stop to think about the return of consciousness as anything remarkable. We understand the science of sleep better and what might cause us to die before we wake. Resuming our lives — life itself, in a sense — seems a given.
We’re similarly unimpressed when any truly wondrous thing happens regularly, even when we agree that it’s wondrous. We’re as insensitive to the miraculousness of the night sky as we are to our daily emergence from a night of obliviousness to the world unless someone points it out.
Emerson well captured human nature when he wrote: “If the stars would appear but one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore; and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the City of God.”
Jewish tradition instructs that the first words to be uttered upon awakening in the morning are to be those of the short “Modeh Ani” statement of gratitude. It is one of the first things observant Jewish parents teach their young.
“I gratefully acknowledge You,” the prayer goes, “living and eternal King, for returning my soul to me with compassion. Abundant is Your faithfulness.”
As we pull ourselves from unconsciousness and dark into awareness and light, our gratitude should be boundless. Reciting Modeh Ani with mindfulness when re-entering the world in the morning has the potential of transforming a day from mundane to miraculous.
The rabbis of the Talmud also instituted a blessing to be mindfully recited after using the restroom. Sound odd? Well, think for a moment about the myriad unseen but crucial elements of digestion, the body’s separation of nutrients and vitamins, and assignment of each through the gut and bloodstream to its rightful destination and the proper function of our organs that results.
Mundane, to be sure, but just as surely miraculous.
We may not emerge each morning from the confines of a metal can on the ocean floor. But, revisiting and pondering the hope, even now tragically dashed, that the Titan’s occupants might have been so rescued should give us pause, and boundless gratitude, every time the alarm clock pulls us back to the surface of our lives.