Pay Attention

A creative writing professor told her students to pay attention to what is happening in our world today. This will be the defining event of our lives. No one alive has ever seen anything like this, and writers will write about it. Scripts for films and documentaries will detail how this unfolded. Music will be composed and sung. Art will show death and life and chaos to those who bore witness and for those who will only imagine it. It is important that we take this in. We must pay attention. We must bear witness.

I spent some time this week perusing the New York Times obituary section. Artists, film-makers, scientists, heads of state and musicians are being wiped out in these moments. Many are old. They have seen much in their lives, and they made history or recorded it for us. They paid attention. Their art and craft helped us make sense of the world around us, feel our feelings and pay attention to our own mundane but exceptional lives. They are the storytellers, the poets and the prophets. They wove the tapestry of our lives.

The legends I knew growing up are leaving this earth one by one. It seems like every day we lose some beautiful, talented soul who marked my life. And, now with this virus, we are fast-forwarding through the list. One day they were young and vibrant, living hard and fast. The next thing I know they are old and frail, some living their best lives and others are a shadow of their former selves. The speed at which we live and die is breathtaking.

I watch Goldie Hawn cook bone broth on Instagram. She dances and giggles just like the young and ditzy star she always was. I ran across a YouTube interview of her with Johnny Carson early in her career, and I was stunned to see a woman who acted very much like a little girl beholden to the male power player on the show. I was shocked by how much women have grown into their own and how much women like Goldie have seen in their lifetimes. What does she think when she looks back at the self that felt like she had to apologize for being independent? Or does she even remember? Was she paying attention as her experience was changing?

Our world is changing right now. I flew to Orlando right after 9/11. I was one of three people on a 747. Just a few weeks earlier, airports were packed with families seeing loved ones off. It’s hard to believe we could all walk through security to say good-bye or meet somebody arriving at the gate. Security was a cursory check with no need for elaborate screening. Airport shopping malls were packed, and corridors resembled busy streets. That first trip into that empty airport felt really strange. The world I had known had ended, and we Americans had lost our innocence. We gave up freedoms to be safe, and we adapted because we lived the consequences. I remember paying attention that day in the airport. The loss and fear are forever etched on my soul.

The world that we knew before March 2020 is gone. Some things will come back, but much will never be the same.We have lost even more of our innocence. I wish I had paid attention more during the first of the year or over the holidays. Had I known that grocery shopping would require masks, my coworkers would literally disappear from my day-to-day experience, and all of my favorite haunts would close, I would have hugged people a little longer or enjoyed a more leisurely lunch at my favorite cafe. We don’t know what tomorrow holds.

How long til we gather like this again?

My blogs on my daily adventures in coffee shops and restaurants remind me of the past. We have the music and art and science that the victims of this virus have left in its wake. We will pay attention and document this pandemic and its aftermath for future generations because it’s what we do. Sharing our art is not a task that we take on. It’s the life that we live. It’s who we are. Our documentation and our lives detail what is lost and what is gained when the world turns upside down. Pay attention.

What are you paying attention to at this time?

3 Comments on “Pay Attention

  1. I’m paying attention to how quiet the skies are over my house.
    I’m noticing how empty the roads are when I go for a run. And that people see me coming a few blocks away and one of us moves into the street. Before, they would have pretended not to see me and I would have to squeeze by them on the sidewalk. Now people are more likely to give way.
    People also make more eye contact while I’m out and even smile and wave sometimes.
    Hopefully that will last. This feeling that we are all in this together.

    • I agree. It is a very different landscape. I ran this morning, and people should be all over the place in Spring in Michigan. It was quiet except for families. And as a weird silver lining I’ll attend services this morning with my brother in Louisiana drinking coffee out of a Beijing mug he gave me after one of his trips there.

  2. I am paying attention to good things, like LOTS of extra time to spend in the God’s word and prayer!!

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