Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | June 3, 2010

Paying Attention

          One of the most distinguishing characteristics of Jesus is that he paid attention.  He paid attention to people and their behaviors so closely he often knew what they were thinking or feeling.  He paid attention to what was going on around him so much that he could talk knowledgeably about farming practices, fishing, politics, even taxes.  He paid attention to the sick, the dying, the marginalized so carefully that he was able to reach them in ways no one else could.

          Three mornings a week I drive to our local recreation center to go jogging on the outdoor trail.  This morning, as I was getting out of my car, I realized I’d left my mp3 player at home.  Uh oh.  That is how I keep my mind occupied while I’m slowly grinding out the few miles of my run.  I usually listen to the news, because that’s about the only time I can catch it.  By the time I get back to my car, I may be sweating a lot, but at least I have an idea of what’s going on in the world, and I have been distracted from the act of my feet hitting the ground a few thousand times.

          For a long moment this morning I considered going back home to get my player so I could plug in, but realized that was a waste of time and set out, dreading the drudgery.  It was a beautiful late spring morning, and I hoped I could endure it.

          The first part of my run is through a ball park, always empty at this time of the morning.  I scared up a couple of baby bunnies.  I’d have seen them even if I’d been wearing my earplugs, but I wouldn’t have heard the tiny little squeaks they made at my approach.  When they’re not in my garden, baby bunnies are kind of cute.

          Usually, when I pass the middle school, I don’t pay much attention to the kids getting out of their parents’ cars or stepping off the bus.  When I do notice, they seem a bit grumpy.  This morning, though, I could hear laughter as they greeted each other.  Maybe because it’s the last week of school?

          Next come a couple of subdivisions.  Since I didn’t have anything to occupy my ears, I spent more time occupying my eyes.  I noticed two backyard vegetable gardens I’d never seen before.  They’d obviously been there for a while (years, maybe), but I hadn’t paid attention.  They were lovely, like most  gardens this time of year.  Rows of tomato plants in one, ankle-high corn in another.  And when did that one house get so many roses?  When was the last time I’d even looked over in that direction?

          After the houses are open fields.  Normally this time of year I see one or two red-winged blackbirds on the fence by the path during a typical jog.  Today I heard them before I saw them, and there were well over a dozen along the way, all over the fields, often perched on a tall weed that doesn’t look as though it could possibly support a bird.  How do they do that?  On one occasion, when I heard the call of a red-winged blackbird, I turned to look for it, and I caught sight of my first bluebird of the season, sitting near the other side of the field.

          I made it to my turnaround point, surprisingly less tired than I’d expected, and started back.  Now I was really on the lookout for new and interesting things.  More birds (or were they the same ones?), a couple of weeping willows that seem to have grown several feet since last year, a gorgeous blooming thistle by the fence.

          As I neared the end of my jog, I came up behind a man pushing a stroller.  I quietly said hello as I passed, imagining that the child inside was probably asleep, lulled by the quiet hum of little wheels on the paved path.  I was stunned to see a boy of about 18 months, leaning forward as far as his seatbelt would allow, gripping the bar with both hands, eyes wide open to the world.  He was gawking at everything as if he couldn’t get enough, taking it all in wordlessly, all the sights and sounds and smells.   I smiled at him and he just looked at me with those huge eyes, watching me as he was watching everything else that went past his perch in the stroller.

          I glanced back when I heard the man speak to the boy as they turned around on the path to head home.  The boy leaned out around the side of the stroller to give me one last backward look.  This time he let loose a huge grin.  It seemed to be an acknowledgement of our common wonder at this amazing world.  On this day, it was our secret. 

          I knew it was only the fluke of my leaving my mp3 player at home that caused me to notice the details of my world today.  Yet the boy was wildly overwhelmed.  At what point do we stop being awed by the world?  When do we “grow up” so that things aren’t so new to us anymore? 

          I made a commitment to look and listen more, to turn off the news occasionally, to absorb the beauty and learn from it, like that little boy.

I want to pay attention.

© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2010

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