Learning to Pay Attention

I think it was a few days after New Years when I broke down over something random, and then realized that part of the reason for my sadness was simple: somewhere along the way there seemed to be nothing “new” anymore.

A family loss right before Christmas. The quiet of winter. No snow (ha, but really though).

Then this weird thing started happening: everything in life started connecting. For example, I had this idea to write a series on my blog about “the details.” I’d pick an everyday scenario (eg, coming home from work at the end of the day) and then write down a series of details, trying to capture even the unassuming ones. Then, I saw an article with a quote from the book “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” which I immediately remembered that my friend Laura had told me to read years ago. It was the same day that I came down with the virus that everyone had last month (ugh), so I went to the library to find it (it’s always nice to have a book to read when you’re not feeling well).

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It didn’t take me long to discover that I absolutely love the book, and I laughed at the critics online who said that there was simply “too much detail”. There is a whole section where the main character Francie decides that she wants to focus in on every detail of a moment:

“But she didn’t want to recall things. She wanted to live things – or as a compromise, re-live rather than reminisce. She decided to fix this time in her life exactly the way it was this instant. Perhaps that way she could hold on to it as a living thing and not have it become something called a memory. […] She brought her eyes close to the surface of her desk and examined the patterned grain of the wood […] She dropped it into the metal wastebasket counting the seconds it took to fall. She listened intently so as not to miss its almost noiseless thud as it hit the bottom. […] Francie heard, as it for the first time, the sound the desk drawer made when she opened it to get her purse. She noted the device of the purse’s catch – the sound of its click. She felt the leather, memorized its smell and studied the whirling on the black moiré-silk lining. She read the dates on the coins in her change purse. There was a new 1917 penny which she put in the envelope.”

If Francie (or the author, Betty Smith) was alive today, I would like to read her blog. Sorry Francie, I know blogs did not exist in 1917 – but I’m glad we get to read about you in your book (which is a new favorite).

That’s when it kind of hit me. Maybe it wasn’t that there was nothing new in life. Maybe I needed to PAY CLOSER ATTENTION. These details were not to be overlooked.

The connections haven’t stopped there. At the end of last year, I wrote about how I was inspired to declare “perseverance” as my word for 2017. Since that day, the word and concept have been jumping out at me everywhere. Like, everywhere.

I have been inspired to write new songs, and the literal metaphors (those words are confusing next to each other, but bear with me) that I used later showed up as themes in a conversation participated in, or a sermon listened to. This has happened a lot, and I hesitate to try and explain it all, but it has been too present to ignore. Do you ever experience one of those blessings that you know should just be absorbed and not shouted from the rooftops? Yup. There have definitely been some of those.

It is so easy to fall into the trap of thinking that there is nothing new. As long as we are breathing, there is purpose here. “[God’s] mercies are new every morning” (Lam. 3:22-23) There is something incredible that happens when we pay attention. Suddenly, we find our lives intersecting with the lives of others in ways that we never planned or anticipated. Maybe it’s a new friendship. Maybe it’s having the opportunity to help a total stranger, only to realize that by helping them, they have helped you even more. In reality, there are so many things in our lives that beg to not be taken for granted.

These past two months have reminded me of two quotes that I love:

“…that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.” – Annie Dillard

“Instructions for living a life. Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.” – Mary Oliver

I don’t know about you – but I am actually really looking forward to paying attention, being astonished, and telling (more like writing/singing) about it soon. What has amazed you recently? I’d love to hear about it.

xoxo,

Rorie

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