I read Mary Oliver’s poem “Sometimes” for the first time in the summer of 2020 and this stanza below is one I haven’t been able to stop thinking about ever since.
Instructions for living a life:
Tell about it.
The reason I keep seeking to read more Mary Oliver and more poetry in general is because of how it leads me to pay attention more intentionally. The very act of paying attention awakens me to the depth of humanity, to the beauty of creation, and to the magnitude of life. It leads me to laugh more often and to cry a bit more too. It brings me into awe. And, it brings me out of my head in a way that is healing. There is a cost with paying attention, however I believe that the benefits outweigh the costs every time we choose attention.
This past year was my year of reading books on writing. Each author essentially shares the same advice: pay attention. It is everything.
This is a prompt I hope to always be exploring and I hope it encourages you to explore it too.
These pieces below exemplify why paying attention is worth it. It is rich. It is beautiful. It is healing.
As always, thank you to the writers willing to share their words! There is always great beauty and courage in doing so. And, to the readers, thank you for reading. May these words meet you and bring you into deeper attention.
Like a tree I find myself clinging to old blessings- failing to believe there’s beauty to come. Have I not watched the Autumn leaves fall each year simply to be replaced with the hope of new green? What do I do when I know is not what I’m experiencing? Will your promises of abundance be enough when all I can see is my barrenness? Will I trust that this winter will end too? I will remind my soul what I know to be true, I will rehearse joy knowing I will taste it someday soon. New seasons bring new mercies, even here, your loving kindness still surrounds me. You hold my very being together. So, I will let this winter do its work in me, knowing it is carving out spaces in me to hold a depth I never thought possible. Thank you for the winter. Caleb Burke -------------- 6/28/17 Libros de pasaje con Abby, Katie, Ethan, y Trevor Baked goods for breakfast by Mercedes’ sister Mercedes singing Tango class The nice pharmacy man looking up pepto bismol on phone Argentine folk not being condescending about my Spanish 2 hours of yoga and massa at Ory 4/17/17 The loud frogs in Baxley Getting to listen to North Point live on the way home Jam and Maddie and Annie and Seth and Malon and Rachel and Elif Finding a time for the girls to hang CFA with Macy and Rose Grocery with Becca This swing bench 2/15/2018 Coming downstairs yesterday to the array of valentines things on the table from roomies Talking to Cal on the phone Lady putting extra jellies in the Cracker Barrel fresh hot biscuits Taking Audj to class Running into ash as we secretly put valentines in everyone’s rooms Will getting me lavender that Toole picked up 9/14/2018 Everyone cooking in the kitchen Car swap Emma in Business 4000 Holmes having an English accent Last first day of school pic Taq with Will Hanging at dirty Lump 4/5/19 Waking with no alarm Driving Will to class La making me breakfast Caro stopping by 100 on quiz Visiting Leita Sitting on bean bags Bailey coaching 7/26/21 Feeling good on flights to CO Kelly picking us up A pretty drive Arriving earlier than anyone expected Having our own house The views Seeing the sunrise Wedding day chill-ness Hot tub Pay attention Lindsay Lowery -------------- “Notes from Scotland” This is what I’ve noticed in my paying attention: It’s the seemingly ordinary moments, the wildly insignificant that has grabbed my attention as I settle my mind and focus. Those moments, in fact, have become significant. What I’ve seen and captured on my camera begs for a second look at the supposed sacredness. When I look again, I see it clearly now. It would seem magical to move to a new country with building older than your own, but these photos show mundane life lived extraordinarily Despite what you may think People live here They go to work Go to school meet friends for dinner grocery shop Here - a pub is just a pub and winter is cold and the sun rises in the morning I’m finding that it’s not the location that makes a life full of joy It’s the small routines - the ebb & flow of your day It’s the ordinary turned sacred in the moments you choose to stop and pay attention to. Emily Heyduck -------------- are you happy? I remember the way it felt to sit across the table from my very best friends. the ease and freedom that comes so easily with them. are you happy? I think about walking home from dinner, a consistent plan, my favorite kind. the air is cold on my skin as I make my way down the most familiar streets ive ever known piano rings through my headphones, a new song that a good friend showed me earlier in the day. are you happy? I open my door - see the first home I have ever lived in alone memories from the last two months overwhelm me. the space I’ve always desired, has slowly been brought to life. are you happy? I wait for him to walk through the door, to greet me with a kiss he is patient and steady, exactly what I needed, exactly when I needed it always ready for whatever I throw at him are you happy? all I have to do is look around - the answer is all around me I don’t have to think very hard yes Savannah Shaw -------------- Another Sunday Afternoon It’s the feeling when you read a cryptic post that you thoughts was a birthday message on a Sunday afternoon. Only to realize, it was a post to memorialize a life of a friend who passed and a phone call to share the news. It’s familiar and fresh yet years-old-sadness. The week following brings perspective, overdue friend check-ins, motivation to start over… Death reveals the beginning again and the reminder of how selfish yet natural it is to make it about me. A comfortable wing to hide under And channel all my other sorrows. Maybe, pay attention, instead, to those sorrows in between this and the next inevitable passing. And the next one won’t be so much about me. It never was to begin with. On a lighter note All of their faces the lines that frame her smiling eyes the folds that deepen his loving smile the nose crinkle that gives company to her joy the gait that their walks share— making them family the tap of her wrist against her hip when she’s giddy the wiggle of his arms before he hugs the glitter in the corner of their eye—left over makeup from a night of being themselves I’m paying attention because they are, those whom I love, the glimpses I reach for in my mind when I hope to feel at home. Kelly Mowry -------------- Paying Attention to the Way We Value When you know the work that went into something, you value it more. It’s morning and it’s raining. I hold my cup of coffee close to my face as I stare and get lost outside that window. The steam from my cup rises up and I begin to enjoy this coffee before I even take a sip. I think about how good it is and how I’m thankful to have it…all before I even tasted it. This strikes me. What if it’s a bad cup of joe?! Haha Last week I sat here drinking instant coffee. I drank it, but I didn’t enjoy it. I kept thinking, if only I had real coffee. And on this morning I sit here with that real stuff. Moments before I stood in that kitchen heating water, measuring the grounds, letting it steep, waiting, then pressing it through the filter. I was an active agent in creating this hot cup before me. I knew what it took for it to become what it is. It was a process. It wasn’t instant. Perhaps this is the very reason why I enjoy it so much. I value it because I know the work. I know the work, so I know the worth. And I guess that’s why I use this mug each morning. It’s not a perfect mug by any means. But I made it. I look at it, and I know the transformation from mud to clay; from drying to firing; from glazing to firing again. The weeks of work and waiting. This mug isn’t perfect but I don’t want anything else. I love this mug. And nothing can cause me to question its worth. For I am its creator. And I know. Oh God, my Creator. Is this how you look at me? The very one who knit me together in my mama’s belly. The one who knows my whole story. All my days. Who has made me new and makes me new. Who calls me “mine”, “my precious”, “my beloved”. Is this how you look at me God? Never, not once questioning my value? Oh wow. This is. I breathe this in. I give in. I love you, too. -written Fall 2019. Grady, Alabama Rachel Gamblin -------------- The Beauty of Dying Accessories I wonder if the trees can see The beauty of their dying accessories In the same way that we Anticipate the yellows, reds, and oranges That cloak their soon barren arms -- Stretched out for all to see The sharp beauty of the stripping I wonder if the trees can see The beauty of their dying accessories Sometimes it seems That they are completely confident of these things Perhaps they notice the dying and prepare for new life By wearing their beautiful new hues With courage for which it is due As they eagerly wait For Spring to make them new I wonder what it would take for me to see The beauty of my own dying accessories The things the Master Gardener lays to rest As He strips and prunes as He knows best Perhaps the trees Have a lot more to teach me An Old Friend Loneliness Hello again old friend You’re the last person I want to see But you are always the first to arrive It’s strange how you work And slip your way into my presence When I least expect it ------ Your presence feels like a deep ache in the center of my stomach But at the same time You offer a gentle reminder - Ironically You whisper to me “You’re not as alone as it may seem” ------ I wonder about this for a while. Hailey Hawkins -------------- The scariest thing you could possibly do It’s more terrifying than the conversation you’ve dreaded for years It’s harder, takes all of you that you can give in that moment And it won’t work half-assed, It sniffs out that you still have more to give and demands. It’s demanding. Requires this, and more you must be diligent, a fighter. It’s not for the faint of heart, Paying attention. __ In March, friends new and old spoke about it And the invitation lingered in the air all year long What started with the demanding process of paying attention To needs and pain and myself. Changed into the greatest joy. My life, this world around me, as it is And not as it should be Is worth seeing. Katie Lynch -------------- “A dazzling, delicious life” It was early, to shake with joy, with astonishment. But what is morning, if not a glorious window, an invitation to possibility? Pay attention to who walks you home to yourself Do not be startled by the shy desire to believe something is true What if we are worthy of what is golden and new? Let me dream up a dazzling, delicious life: is it not simply a handful of ordinary miracles? Spinning in the rain Asking strangers their names Letting someone hold your pain Two, three, or four glasses of wine Riding the carousel one more time Cherishing someone you swear is divine When you crumble into hands fit for wonder An obesity of love between palms What else could hold you again?\ Leita Williams -------------- When will I realize? Encounter the light Close the curtains Listen intently Forget spontaneously The cycle never ends Highs to lows Mountains to valleys Found to hidden. What is missing?? Breathe. Now we can begin again Tears could never surface For breaths were never taken The only cry is of the deepest of breaths Yawn. Questions left unanswered Never enough time Until We realize Exhaustion unfolds from the lonely searches for answers But That is the answer I was made to breathe. I was made to be. I was made! Hallelujah! Can someone hand me a tissue? Austin Frederking -------------- Pay attention To the soft whisper Within. Be soft with her, really listen in. You’ll come to see, your body, She speaks. Be kind to her, really lean in. You’ll come to hear, Your advocate Within. She’ll tell you It’s okay To slow down She’ll remind you It’s okay To listen To yourself It’s okay To show up just for today You don’t have to Figure it all out You don’t have to Overextend Self You don’t have to Be a stranger Here. You don’t have to be Anything But Present. You can Be In your body. Be One with your body Be Your body. Bailey Frederking -------------- Paying attention Most of my days are spent with the young people, The ones who aren’t fully formed into who they are going to be one day (although when you look closely we are all this way). They are just trying on identities, words, friends Just testing out each new outfit to see if it’s “me” for them They carry the heavy loads of all of these “try-on’s” like the heavy backpacks they wear around school Except these are full of “what if’s” and “why’s” and “who am I’s” and “can you even see me’s” And I pay attention to them I have to To who they are beneath the layers of Self-discovery Self-denial Self-protection Insecurity and inauthenticity The fear is striking out And the fear of missing out And I see such depth Such growing wisdom Feelings that matter Maybe teenagers are just misguided angst Or maybe, if we look closely, they have hope spilling out of each acne-clogged pore. I learn from them each day. It’s the most humbling part of my life. One teaches me the beauty of unbridled and untamed passion, even in the face of rejection. Another teaches me that the world, no matter what it says about itself, does not honor weakness, not like we need it to sometimes. One tells me (quite forcefully) that some smiles are earned rather than freely given And that we must work to see the softness that lies in each human being. All of them in their own perfectly unique ways, teach me patience. It’s a hidden gift how much they add to our world just by existing and continuing to exist. If only we are willing to pay attention. Caroline Beltrami -------------- Lessons from Fagliano There's a difference when you pay attention to the answers of a crossword puzzle, instead of merely maneuvering your way to a victory. I've learned the hard way as every once and a while NYT Mini maker, Joel Fagliano, will repeat a clue. If I wasn't paying attention the first time, I'll feel it in my gut the second. A lot like lessons. Hearing something for the first time comes with the grace of no knowledge base, but lessons are learned in the practice of paying attention. You see, I can tell you now that a Jib is a name for a triangular sail and that the Colts won the Superbowl in 2006, but there are also hundreds of hints (and hundreds of lessons) in one ear and out the other. The dirt will keep collecting until you leave the shoes at the door. The strain will keep you limp till you start moving with your core. The differences will be dividing till you listen more. I'm learning a lot from Fagliano. He likes to bring up French culture, moments in history, and words less commonly shared. But one of the biggest things I'm learning from him right now is that there is a difference between filling in blanks and bringing what you know to bear. Lazio is the Italian region whose capital is in Rome. We'll see if I remember that in a few months when I look at the dirt on the floor and decide to put off sweeping by pulling out Fagliano's mini. Carson Travers