On the Importance of paying attention

Some days just seem to be designed as reminders of important things.  Things like paying attention.  You get up and go off to your life with a blithe spirit, just doing everything like you do, until something happens to jog you awake.  Or sometimes it takes two things.  You have heard many times that life offers us lessons, and until we learn them we will be continually presented with opportunities to do so. Only you think maybe you’re on hiatus from that rule because, well, just because nothing much has happened to remind you of it lately.

You go to school and in a moment of relaxed vigilance, when you are enjoying yourself with some of your students, another one in the back of the class, in a pique of unwarranted anger, nearly stabs a classmate with a large pair of scissors.  You stop her in time, send her to the office and pull the class back together, pretending like a homicide didn’t almost happen in your classroom, in front of all their astonished eyes.  You had known she was volatile, have dealt with it many times, but never like this.  When the class ends you go to the office to deal with the aftermath of the situation, and find her sitting happily on a bench, shoes off, going through the papers in her binder, waiting for someone to pay attention to her.  You somehow find this complete detachment from the reality of her situation as disturbing as the act which precipitated it. You write the referral and it is out of your hands now, but not out of your mind.  Not by a long shot, maybe not for a long time.

Later that day you go to a meeting with friends and colleagues and you write with them for a while, and you write about the scissor incident.  You all share what you wrote and you laugh or mist up, as is appropriate to whatever was read.  You marvel to yourself at the beauty of everyone’s writing.  At the end of the meeting, you all prepare to leave.  Only about four of you remain when your friend asks you to get her a cup of water from the cooler that is next to you.  You jokingly  ask her, “Why me?  Why don’t you just get it yourself?” She says you are closer and you are, so you lean over and fill up the cup.  Except the reach is a little far, and you are a little off balance, and as you bring the cup to the table it seems to jump out of your hand and it all spills.  All over your friend’s bag.  Her bag which contains her calendar and journal and her beautiful black MacBook laptop.  OMG!! You pull the laptop out of the bag, and grabbing a huge handful of napkins begin to swab it off.  She somehow stays far calmer than you do, and as you are drying it she says, “I’ll have to hairdry it when I get home.”  The keyboard is wet, and even though it was closed and most of the water is on the floor you are sure it has filled up and the inner workings are destroyed.  You apologize again and again, and are vaguely amazed at her calm.  She shrugs and says, “It’s just a thing.  It’ll be fine.”

And as you all go home, her words echo in your mind.  You wonder if you would have been as nonchalant, so non-blaming, so graceful in the face of what must certainly be freaking you out.  You notice that she doesn’t ask where you are parked and as you go your separate ways, you are pretty sure that she really did want to get away from you, the careless computer ruiner.

That night you awaken in the middle of the night with images of horror running through your head.  You see the scissors impaled in a little boy’s back, the dead computer and you cringe as though to distance yourself from the images that won’t leave you.  They continue to arise for a couple of days, even though the scissors didn’t actually come anywhere close to the child, his would-be attacker has been expelled and, you hope, is bound for help and your friend has assured you that her computer is absolutely fine.

The images continue to haunt you and finally, three days later, in an instant of clarity you realize that you got off easy.  That life is trying to tell you to wake up and pay attention, has in fact been trying to tell you that for some time, only you were too distracted to notice.  You’d been feeling pretty cocky about not having fallen down for a few months, but didn’t realize that you still weren’t paying attention.  And it has finally occurred to you that it is imperative that you do so, right away.


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