in plain sight

Idling at a familiar intersection, my unwelcome glance was met with a foreign gesture – two raised hands.

I think we’ve all been there, someone is talking and a few minutes in, eyes start to wander and whether it’s the game being on over someone’s shoulder, or the cell phone buzzing, the message it sends isn’t positive. Often times I have chalked it up to being easily distracted, but that’s a cop-out.

When playing my favorite video game my eyes don’t leave the screen, sometimes for ten minutes at a time, so I’m fully capable of paying attention. The difference I have come to realize is that I pay attention completely to what I find important.

Last week I saw Lady Bird for the first time and was struck by this exchange:

Sister Sarah Joan: You clearly love Sacramento.
Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson: I do?
Sister Sarah Joan: You write about Sacramento so affectionately and with such care.
Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson: I was just describing it.
Sister Sarah Joan: Well it comes across as love.
Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson: Sure, I guess I pay attention.
Sister Sarah Joan: Don’t you think maybe they are the same thing? Love and attention?

Paying attention is not simply making eye contact, but that’s certainly part of it. It’s about spending time, listening – intentional engagement. Now, you might be reading this thinking, yeah okay, knew that, and? Well, this post is not only about the power of focusing on what’s important, but also the dangers of wandering eyes.

street art in Rome

When passing a musician performing in New York, Penn Station, I was struck by how many people had stopped to listen. It turned out that this particular performer was Lee England Jr., who was called the Michael Jordan of the violin, by Michael Jordan. Someone in the crowd, after walking up to put a couple dollars in his violin case, turned to me and said – “If you’re going to stand here and watch, you should probably give him something.” Luckily I had a few dollars in my pocket and was able to contribute. Now, it turns out that Lee England Jr. wasn’t playing for the money, but for the community and the love of music. Regardless, his melodies and the words of my fellow listener resonated with me on the train ride home.

If you’re going to stand here and watch, you should probably give him something.

Unpacking that statement with the most positive interpretation led me to a helpful insight – if I’m going to benefit from someone sharing their gifts, I should attempt to communicate my appreciation.

Unpacking this statement with a cautionary interpretation also led me to a helpful insight – if I’m going to stop and stare, just in curiosity, and not communicate appreciation, it might simply just be rude and maybe I should just move on and stay focused on what I’m doing.

The two raised hands belonged to a man eating a sandwich outside of Burger King. I should have just kept my eyes on the road, except I didn’t and my eyes lingered long enough to make him gesture his disapproval.

Chalk it up to being easily distracted is the easy thing to do, the more difficult option is to be cognizant of where and if I’m paying my attention, and if it’s welcomed.

Just because someone is in public, doesn’t mean they’re on display.

One thought on “in plain sight

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