Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Art of Paying Attention

They say we see what we want to see; interpret what we see as we want to have them interpreted.  We create this sort of grid of reality.  So reality is relative to our own worlds.  Truth happens as we interpret things.  Think of that car accident...each person has a different perception of the accident, depending on what they were focused on in the moment.  The drivers were focused on their own car.  The passenger And they all have different stories.  Same with arguments.  We each are focused on our own reality, not the other's, which makes it hard to even understand that there could be a different way of thinking of things.  So there is an art of paying attention.

One of my favorite professors was Ted.  I loved taking classes from him because he always got very involved in his subject when he taught a class.  He is a smallish hyper guy who tended to enter a classroom and focus on the lecture--no chitchat, just jumped into the subject.  His enthusiasm was catching.  One term while he was teaching Nonverbal Communication, he entered the class just as described and started lecturing.  He spoke for about 20 minutes and then looked at one woman who was sitting in the front row.  He thought as he continued to lecture, “Wow! This woman has the bluest eyes I have ever seen!”  He peered closer (still lecturing), his face less than a foot from hers, so entranced was he with her eyes.

He backed up a bit and it was then that he noticed...she was wearing a brown paper bag over her head...and her eyes were so startling because that’s all he saw of her face.  So he stands up and looks around and...damn!  The whole class was wearing brown paper bags over their heads!

Another time, I entered the class a bit late; the rest of the class was already seated.  Ted had already started his lecture.  I was doing initial research for my master’s thesis on how non-disabled people interacted with someone who had a disability and I was using a motorized wheelchair.  It was a friend’s old chair with a very loud motor.  As I entered the classroom, the desks were in the way, so everyone in the class stood up and moved the chairs out of my way.  I headed for the front of the classroom. Rummmmmm!  I found a spot where I wanted to sit in the front row; students moved the two desks out of the way.  I backed into the space bumping a few empty desks, knocking one over with a clamor.  And all the while, the motor continued to hum very loudly.  Rummmmmm!  I settled in and turned off the motor.  Silence...except for Ted’s lecturing....

Ted continued to speak, talking to me in his lecture and the rest of the class; the class and I continued to participate in his lecture.  After about 10 minutes, he looked at me, stopped and said, “Werkman! Is there something different about you today?” (take note that this man was my graduate adviser who helped me design my research.)  I looked at him and smiled.  “You think it might be this wheelchair?” I asked.  “What wheelchair?”  He looked around.  “Oh yes! That must be it!” and he continued his lecture.  You just gotta shake your head over those who don't pay attention.

The other day I was driving along and I saw flashing lights coming up behind me, heard the sirens and I needed to pull over to let the ambulance pass....but the woman in the truck next to me is clueless.  She is driving, tapping her fingers on the steering wheel to the music and staring off into that great expanse of roadland ahead.  The ambulance is nearing...I have to slow down to pull in behind her.  I then pull over to the curb to wait for the ambulance to pass.  The car behind me honked.  I smiled and waved.  Perhaps he thought he knew me :)

Out of the 30 or so cars on the street with me, I was the only one who pulled over to let the ambulance pass.  I can’t believe it.  Out of all the cars on this street, I am the only one who pulled over.  What is wrong with people these days?  Are we so self-centered that we just don’t care that this ambulance needs to pass, is hurrying someone in emergency?  The woman in the truck never flinched.  She continued to drive in that faraway manner, tapping her fingers on the steering wheel to the music.

So a few days later I was again driving, coming home from Fabric Depot.  I was on a wide four-lane road which has a fifth lane for turning.  Again I saw an ambulance coming up behind me.  I heard the sirens and then I saw the flashing lights.  I pulled into the right lane and slowed, preparing to pull over to let the ambulance pass.  The car behind me honked and I waved.  Perhaps it is the same man who thought he recognized me :)

Once again I am the only car to pull over.  The ambulance has to weave around the cars and drive in and out of the center lane.  I shake my head and wonder if maybe they changed the law for emergency vehicles since I retired.  You know how news can sometimes get away when you are not at a paying job.  I continue on in the right lane, contemplating the stupidity of drivers.  You know, the inconsiderate driver who will not let you merge or the idiot who kareems past you, pulls up close to the car ahead, then swerves quickly between cars in order to arrive those five seconds earlier to his destination.

I am now really patting myself on the back at my superb safe driving, my complete awareness of what is happening around me at all times as I drive.  I smile to myself at how well I have handled the thousands of miles I drive yearly from coast-to-coast or down to Southern California.  I am sitting relaxed, beamin with fantastic driving ability pride, my total consideration to other drivers, to be constantly aware.  I start tapping my fingers on the steering wheel to the music.  Joni Mitchell.  I smile and sing.

In total obliviousness I pass the school bus, which is stopped on the opposite side of the street.  The  *honk honk honk* of the bus makes me look over as I pass and it is only then that I see the flashing lights and the safety stop sign on the bus.  Every other car behind me has stopped to allow these little children to get off the bus in safety as I kareem past down the road.

*sigh*  What mishaps I get into when pride takes over.  It is always when I think I am doing quite well, am congratulating myself on my ability to do something and buffin my nails on my chest that I am hit square in the face that I still need lots of work.  And it happens with everything at some point--my communication, my relationships, my work, my driving, hell even the way I brush and floss my teeth.  And always it reminds me that I must continually work on that art of paying attention to what is happening at this very moment or I will start to tap my fingers on the steering wheel to the music, clueless.



1 comment:

Scrappy quilter said...

So very true. What a great post!