I have two versions of “Paying Attention” and need your help to decide which one to send in for possible publication… Please let me know which one was more compelling for you!
A few years ago, a dear friend gave birth to her first child and I missed it completely. At the time, I was consumed by a relationship that was falling apart. A week after the baby was born, I ran into a mutual friend who began talking to me as though I knew all about the day Kim’s daughter was born. Tears welled up in her eyes and she said, “And I just can’t get out of my head how sad it is that Kim’s mom died just a week before the baby was born.”
I played along, but all of this was news to me, and it hit me in the stomach with a familiar, sickening self-loathing. I hadn’t known that Kim had had her baby or that her mother had died. It had been weeks since I had checked in on her. I knew her due date; I knew that her mother had not been in great health. In fact, I had picked her up from the airport after her last visit with her mom. She was six or seven months pregnant at the time and had flown anyway. I suspected at the time that she was concerned that her mom and her baby may never get the chance to meet in person, though I don’t recall her saying this outright.
I’m such an asshole, I recall thinking, How do I miss things as important as this? And always, always, Why don’t I pay closer attention?
On a regular basis, these questions bear down on me. I spend much of my life feeling like I am rooted to a spot in a dark, windy cavern, with life – my responsibilities, obligations, joys, chances to show love, opportunities to make people feel special – swirling around me. I grab into the cold, shadowy updrafts and pull out what I can, trying to see what I haven’t been able to grasp, but I eventually turn to what is before me. I arrange what I’ve accumulated into to do lists, priorities, and sometimes I really hit the mark.
Sometimes, I’m able to save the day, to be someone’s heroine, to love someone so well that they believe, at least for a time, that they deserved such kind attention and action. I relish these times that I can be the person who paid attention when it really mattered. I covet the memories of these moments like lost treasures found; I use them as talismans, as though they can save me from showing up preoccupied, or inconsistently, or not at all. As though, with them in my pocket, being in my life won’t mean that a person’s needs are ignored, or that I need to be asked to be more conscious, more reciprocal, more balanced.
I should bring them out, these little gems, so that they can, perhaps, illuminate the connections between the things I know, but am too distracted to pay attention to.
I fail to pay attention to the “right” things on a regular basis.
Last week, as a co-worker and I helped the trainers, who had spent the last eight hours training the staff we jointly supervise, pack up their materials, I realized that I had failed to introduce my new co-worker to the trainers at any point in the day.
On a trip to Hawaii to visit a friend I adore, I asked her to take picture after picture of me and didn’t think to get pictures of us together until she suggested doing it.
I lost my best friend for almost two years after many more years of her not knowing how to tell me she felt like she was playing a supporting role in my life or if it would make any difference if she could.
I forget to call friends I’ve known for a decade or more on their birthdays, or to check in with them when I know they are going through a hard time. The worst example of this was when a dear friend’s mother died a week before her first baby was born, I was so preoccupied with a relationship that was falling apart that I couldn’t even find time to go visit her until her baby was three weeks old.
But I do also catch things that matter.
I am grateful for all that my co-worker has brought to our unit — she is smart, creative, efficient, and thorough — and I tell her as much as I remember to that I appreciate her.
The friend I visited in Hawaii and I connected in an uncommon way. I took her in a few days after we met, when her health took a turn for the worse. I fed her, took her to urgent care, drove her to the only 24 hour pharmacy a half hour away, and gave her my bed for several nights until she could safely make the drive back home to LA.
I’ve reconnected with my estranged friend. I listened to her reasons for leaving our friendship. I took responsibility and apologized. My friend whose mother passed just before her baby was born, dismissed my desperate regret and said graciously, “You’re here now.” Recently, I dropped by her house with a container of soup and some hearty bread, “packing food” I called it. I insisted on helping her box up her house in the stressful days before she and her family moved away. I cleaned, I played with her daughter, we talked and talked. I was there when it mattered, finally.
This year, I raised about $1300 for a friend who was in a huge life crisis.
For some folks who love me, being in my life sometimes means that I do not always see their needs or that they have to ask for me to “be” differently with them — more conscious, more reciprocal, more balanced. I often hate this part of me, I admonish myself to sleep more, meditate regularly, get and stay organized, all things I think would help me pay attention better, and I am dedicated to “being,” in all ways, better.
I hope that I am forever becoming more present to my friends needs, and less scatterbrained and distracted. If I have any intention for 2011, it is that I pay attention to more of the things that matter, to the things that make people feel respected, loved and held in the highest regard.