Pay Attention (while you can)


I get to visit Nicaragua in a few days, for the first time since we moved back to the States last summer. I’m excited and nervous. I cannot wait to see people who have become family to me. I left in the midst of stress and turmoil last year, so I feel a little residual anxiety. But I think the bigger reason I’m nervous is that I’m still lacking closure. I don’t know if I’ll experience it this time; I don’t even have a clear picture of what “getting closure” might be for me. But this morning, my pastor-friend-person told me he thought I need it and is praying I will find some. He’s wise enough to listen to, so I’m listening.

I’m not going to spend the rest of this post talking about that. I think I’ve already provided as much vagueness and uncertainty as one post needs (or I can stand). But that is my state of mind, thinking about seeing the people I love, where I invested seven years of my life, in a life that feels too removed from the one I live here.

I’m reflecting on living presently. Again. The same wise pastor-person pointed out today that we learn to live from event to event, which is very different than living consciously each minute. Discussing that with my also-very-wise sister-in-law, she pointed out that we are trained, in our culture, to see life that way. We schedule events. We think about the last event and the next coming event. We plan and prepare for those happenings. We don’t plan to live daily life well, or aware, in the same way at all.

I think we have profound wisdom that we nod to and then disregard in this area. When people die, especially when they die young, we are reminded how precious each moment is. When we talk with our loved ones who are dying, often we get a clear sense how much they treasure what time they have left and yearn for just a little more. Those of us who grieve parents or children who have died get slammed with reminders of how precious one more conversation, one more day, one more hour would be.

Those are hints. Those are good strong hints. Then we get back to calendars and dates and looking ahead. We read Erma Bombeck’s famous “If I had my life to live over…” and think “Yeah! Time to change!” and then we don’t.

There’s nothing wrong with having things to look forward to. I’m not arguing against that. I’m not suggesting you cancel your vacation or postpone that trip again. That may be the yang to the yin I’m describing here, that we need special times, away times, renewing and restoring times to help us live the “ordinary times” well. A relative once told me that it doesn’t matter what job you get because you’re going to hate it anyway; therefore, the only things that matter are getting paid well and having weekends and vacation time. That’s what I’m arguing against, in whatever form we practice it.

Here’s the crazy thing: whether you treasure each moment or wish your moments away, whether you suck the marrow out of life or piss your life away half-drunk and feeling sorry for yourself, your years are going to pass. They’re passing. You’re going to be Erma Bombeck looking back. You’re going to be my friend Fred feeling God draw closer as his physical life slips away. There is no option for “if I do.” The only option we get is “how.”

I know. That’s heavy stuff. In general terms, the younger you are, the less likely you will be to take this seriously, so if you consider yourself “young” and you’re still reading, it’s a miracle! Time and the River have a way of convincing us that there may be something to this whole mortality rumor.

Today I was thinking about my age. I hiked four or five miles with one of our dogs, on a rainy, beautiful afternoon when we had the trail nearly to ourselves. I still feel young–save the sarcasm, hear me out–in my maturity in some areas, younger than I should be, but I feel a lot wiser than I was. I just understand a lot more, including how important it is not to die on meaningless hills, or even kind-of-important hills. I also imagine my body is younger than it is, and am repeatedly shocked when it won’t quite respond the way I think it still can. Shocked, I tell you.

Do what you will with this. Here’s my recommendation: pick out something this week, time with your kids or spouse or significant other or friend or awesome pet or with your own bad self, and make a choice to consciously appreciate it. Pay real attention in that time. If your mind starts skipping ahead, pull it back to now. Just try it. Look at them during that time. Really look. Look to see.

My son Corin, who somehow just turned twelve, was sick and I got more time with him this week than usual. It was great. I appreciate him more at the beginning of this week than I did at the beginning of last.

O, Jesus, make that true for all the people I love.

Of course, I hope to savor my time with those in Nicaragua I see so rarely.

Then I hope to come back and do the same with people here.

If you haven’t read this before, I think it’s worth your two or three minutes to hear what Erma Bombeck would teach us, while we can still apply it.

Someone asked me the other day if I had my life to live over would I change anything.

My answer was no, but then I thought about it and changed my mind.

If I had my life to live over again I would have waxed less and listened more.

Instead of wishing away nine months of pregnancy and complaining about the shadow over my feet, I’d have cherished every minute of it and realized that the wonderment growing inside me was to be my only chance in life to assist God in a miracle.

I would never have insisted the car windows be rolled up on a summer day because my hair had just been teased and sprayed.

I would have invited friends over to dinner even if the carpet was stained and the sofa faded.

I would have eaten popcorn in the “good” living room and worried less about the dirt when you lit the fireplace.

I would have taken the time to listen to my grandfather ramble about his youth.

I would have burnt the pink candle that was sculptured like a rose before it melted while being stored.

I would have sat cross-legged on the lawn with my children and never worried about grass stains.

I would have cried and laughed less while watching television … and more while watching real life.

I would have shared more of the responsibility carried by my husband which I took for granted.

I would have eaten less cottage cheese and more ice cream.

I would have gone to bed when I was sick, instead of pretending the Earth would go into a holding pattern if I weren’t there for a day.

I would never have bought ANYTHING just because it was practical/wouldn’t show soil/ guaranteed to last a lifetime.

When my child kissed me impetuously, I would never have said, “Later. Now, go get washed up for dinner.”

There would have been more I love yous … more I’m sorrys … more I’m listenings … but mostly, given another shot at life, I would seize every minute of it … look at it and really see it … try it on … live it … exhaust it … and never give that minute back until there was nothing left of it.”

― Erma Bombeck, Eat Less Cottage Cheese and More Ice Cream: Thoughts on Life from Erma Bombeck

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