To give attention

On today, Joyce Garcia references a tweet from Pico Iyer quoting the French philosopher Simone Weil: “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” (Maria Popova had a Brain Pickings post about Weil in 2015).

That’s a beautiful way of expressing my curiosity advice to Anna the other day, and it’s a a good way to think about the listening that Bobette Buster advocates in her book Do Story. Iyer used the quote to make a point about distraction and incivility. To pay attention to someone means spending time focused on the person. That seems a good recipe for civility in our times.

Another user, Ron Chester, surprised me with an email message yesterday. He wrote to tell he’s been reading my chronicles, and that he was glad I’d made it through my blogging and social media sabbatical. Ron complimented my writing, but what really made me feel good is the sense that he had spent his time getting to know me through my posts and pictures. He had paid attention to me, and then he had given even more time to write me a long, thoughtful letter.

“I’m inspired by the way you approach life, full of love, especially for your family and your family roots, and no bullshit,” Ron wrote. He also asked about the family photo on my about page; it’s a snapshot of us in Big Bend National Forest, one of the trips we’ve taken to far-off corners of the globe. Visiting the remote Rio Grande and the rim of Mount Yasur and the white sands of St. Croix has given me many moments of awe and gratitude. I’ve been lucky to have my family at my side.

Ron’s letter reminded me of the letters I used to receive when I went away for youth retreats. They were letters from my parents and grandparents, reminding me that they loved me and were proud of me for what I’d accomplished, and even for what I’d tried and failed. When my daughters have gone on their school trips, we similarly send letters ahead, or slip notes into their suitcases.

What a gift it is to send someone a well-written message to compliment someone’s writing, or a kindly note to commend someone for being kind, or a lovingly penned card to remind someone they are loved. To take the time to know another person, to reflect on that person’s value, and to take the time to tell that person why they are important. That’s an amazing feeling, whether you are on the giving side or the receiving side.

Thank you Ron. Thank you mom and dad. Thank you Erin and Anna and Malia and Oliver. Thank you to all the other friends and family and strangers who have been a part of this generous equation during my 47 years.

Tomorrow’s another day. It will be perfect for giving attention and sending notes.



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