i lost track of time today while rummaging through a nice, ripe thrift store and then was utterly confused (read: frustrated/angry) as to why my 2 year old daughter was whining so much i thought my left eye was going to fall out. oh right…..it’s 2:00. she’s tired. i wasn’t paying attention. what did it cost me? a really whiny 2 year old and a whopping case of frustrated, embarrassed and overwhelmed. but the whole thing was totally my fault. it could have been avoided if i’d just been paying attention.
waiting to merge onto the freeway to get home, i see my chance and hit the gas, only to be met suddenly by an also merging, chewed-up oldsmobile. thankfully she and i were both paying attention and we hit the brakes and waved politely at one another (god i love the south) and then she motioned for me to go first. i thanked my lucky stars i wasn’t checking instagram or giving my kids a juice box. i was paying attention – as was she, and it didn’t cost us a thing. but if we hadn’t been paying attention, the cost could have been exponentially high or even fatal.
so i got this word-picture in my head – pay $Attention.00 – where the word attention has an actual dollar sign attached to it. not that in real life you can attribute a number figure to every thing – because you surely cannot – but you can calculate what something is worth. and so the phrase “paying attention” was processed differently in my brain holes today and now probably forever.
after a long hard thought on this, i decided that just by paying attention, so many train wrecks can probably be avoided. physically, for sure – like my almost car accident – but emotionally as well. paying attention to how people behave and what signals they give off. keeping your eyes open and being aware of what to look for when someone might be depressed, or in love, or in need of a friend. sometimes when we pay attention, we can choose to pay it forward. i firmly believe in this and hope that when the Bible says we reap what we sow, that it’s for real. many times i pay it forward in hopes that when i need someone to pay attention to me, i’ll get my bountiful reaping.
for me, paying attention is just being an observant person. when i was in college i studied theater and in one of my acting classes we had an assignment to people watch. we were to choose a location that may contain interesting people and then pick someone unique or otherwise to watch for an extended period of time. for the assignment we were told to jot down everything we could visually observe about that person: what they were wearing, their mannerisms, facial and body features, etc… and then assume a possible story about who they were, what they were doing at this location, what the rest of their life looked like and so on. the final component to this project was based on our observations, we had to write a monologue as if we were this person and present it to the class – as that person. maybe this sounds creepy, but i always loved this assignment. mostly, the people watching part.
people are interesting, and they are often not that difficult to read. these acting classes coupled with a few psychology classes gave me some insight into observing people. sadness almost always looks like sadness. someone who lacks confidence and needs a compliment is usually pretty easy to spot. happy people look and act happy. i say all of this to say that just by paying attention to someone – a stranger – is always an opportunity to seriously brighten their day (or their whole life) and then hear the clink of a return in your Pay Attention Savings Account (located somewhere in the Swiss Alps, no doubt).
paying attention could even give you a better understanding of things – make you wiser or smarter even. look, that kid screaming on the airplane is not screaming on the airplane because his mother is a brainless idiot. if you pay close attention you’ll see that she is crying into her barf bag because she is SO freaking embarrassed that she can’t get her kid to stop screaming and she is FULLY aware that every person on the plane hates her and hates her child. pay attention. go tell her she’s doing the best she can and that it’ll all be over soon. and everyone that’s seriously mad at her can go jump off a building. truth is the kid probably has ear infections and there’s nothing anyone can do for him until the altitude changes. i know….it doesn’t make the flight any less awful, but you can at least not judge that poor mother, and try…..do try and have grace on the kid. if you pray, pray for them both. rule of thumb: never fly without a pair of headphones, or ear plugs. i always have earplugs in my purse. always. you just never know when you’ll need to shut out the world. or save your ears at a rock show.
if you pay attention before you judge, you might just be surprised. a few months ago i went on a beach trip with some of my closest girls and their kids. the neighbor to our beach house was this awkward, hairy bodied, 40-something, balding dude who kept trying to join and converse with 10 gorgeous bikini’d women at our beach nest. it was uncomfortable and a little disgusting. after we’d been there for a few days, one of the girls was approached by this guy, and had a real conversation with him (if you could call it a conversation). she returned to us soberly and explained that she thought he was probably autistic. oooooooohhhhhh……that would make sense of him asking an odd question, getting his answer then just standing there staring at us for several minutes. so then we all felt horrible and had a sudden pang of sympathy for the guy as we turned and stared at him splashing in a tide pool all by himself, with his swimming shorts on backwards. oops. pay attention.
when i pay attention to the time, i can almost always avoid my kids getting too tired or too hungry and then not even have to deal with them getting whiny. if i pay attention to when people’s birthday’s are i can pre-plan gifts and make things super special (which is one of my favorite things to do)! if i pay attention to the weather i can plan perfect days for fun in the sun, or fort-building in the living room and be fully prepared. when i pay attention to my own needs i can assess that if i don’t get at least a 6 hour break from my children and my house this week i might physically lose my head or my teeth and who knows what else could happen. i won’t speak of it.
on the other hand, when we don’t pay attention to things, we usually end up having to pay a greater price for it later. i usually don’t pay attention to how many actual cups of coffee i drink in a given day, but a belly ache at 4:00pm can confirm that i probably had too much, and my stomach isn’t enjoying all the acidity. oops. when certain aspects of a relationship are not payed attention to, it will cost you something at some point. pay attention. if you don’t pay attention to the last time you watered your plants, or fed your fish, they’re most likely going to die. if you don’t pay attention to the signs that someone is falling for you, then you’re going to break their heart. if you don’t pay attention to when the last time you called your mom was, then chances are she’s probably feeling a little neglected by you and you’ll have to apologize. or you should.
a few weeks ago i had to take my son to the doctor because he spent the weekend spontaneously vomiting. after some inspection his doctor told me he was severely constipated. i was confused and felt like a bad mother, “but he poops everyday” – i told her. she said that doesn’t mean he gets everything out. she explained that this can be normal for kid’s his age because they don’t want to stop playing just to go to the bathroom. and over time they stop paying attention to that urge to poop, and then the urge disappears and they get backed up; so backed up that his little body couldn’t even digest anything and he had to throw it up. (gross, i know…..sorry). here’s my point. she said that if you get punched in the arm over and over again in the same spot but you stop paying attention to it, you get numb and don’t realize it’s even happening anymore. Noah stopped paying attention to the urge to poop and he had to pay for it later. i am similarly dealing with something like this. no, i am not constipated, but i’m in a process of learning to pay attention to things i may have tried to ignore in the past because i didn’t want to deal with them. but now i am taking care of some of these things. don’t get numbed out by a necessary urge that when not payed attention to will end up making you sick. i’m paying attention.
for me, i’m learning that i’d rather pay attention ahead of time and in the moment, then have to foot a costly bill later. or pay interest on a large debt that’s been collecting for awhile. this may be one of those live and learn kinds of lessons. or trial and error, perhaps. ellie goulding says “i know you’ve been burned. but every fire is a lesson learned”. anyway…..i say “don’t go into unnecessary debt, when you could avoid writing that check if you’d just payed attention”. don’t assume. don’t prejudge. observe. take notes. focus. focus, people. find your proverbial ritalin. focus.
my best friend’s Puerto Rican grandmother tells him (with a heavy Puerto Rican accent) to “Fuc-us” (she’s saying focus, but you can translate how that would sound with her accent). i was thinking though…….if we don’t focus, it will in time fu*k-us.