Pay Attention by William Klein

I was at a dinner party one night and we were talking about kids.  I remember asking a mother, “What was the best advice she could give to her child”?  She had one ‘go to’ phrase that she always finds herself using. “Pay attention”.

She told me that her child was easily distracted, and she would snap her fingers in order for the child to listen to her.  Then she found herself using it when another child was acting up.  Snap fingers, “Pay attention, don’t do what that kid is doing ‘cause if you do, you’ll get yourself in trouble”. She also used it to direct a meaningful and intentional smile to let her child know that she had something meaningful to impart in the way of loving wisdom.

Taken at face value, her statement is a practical nudge at someone who needs to be more aware, but on a deeper, figurative level that statement really says it all.  What a great piece of advice for life. Digging deeper into the meat of that statement, there is rich protein.

We need to pay attention to our needs – physical, mental, emotional, spiritual. We need to pay attention to the needs of others. We need to pay attention to our financial well being in order to survive, live and retire with a healthy financial future. We need to pay attention to the justice, corruption and the disruptions of injustice that cause our society to decline. We need to pay attention to the fleeting nature of life and dig deeper to help us understand what it is all about.

I remember the classic American play “Death of A Salesman” where Linda Loman says, “Attention must be paid”.  Willy Loman is a tired, old salesman who has lost his way.  He is trying to kill himself and Linda is trying to alert her sons to this reality. Later in the play, Willy tells his boys the “fields are burning” out there and he needs their help. “Where are you guys”? The play addresses how a man could be beaten up by the day-to-day grind of life. It demonstrates how false illusions play into our psyches and challenge us to buy into the false realities society sets for us as well. It addresses the pipe dreams we con ourselves into believing to get through life.

We all live with expectations for a good life.  Society has inspired us to live the “American Dream” and use our gifts to elevate our state in life and in turn the state of others.  Sometimes in our quest to realize this goal we lose a sense of self. We aspire to so much that something else has to give.  In our pursuit of making a million dollars, we pay a price. We compromise relationships, we undermine the value of time with others, we focus on priorities that meet the needs of achievement only to realize that life has flitted away.

Sometimes we have taken our eye off the ball and gone along to get along.  We fall prey to our comforts and forget to challenge ourselves and lose sight of our goals.  Everyone has done this at some point in life.

One of the great regrets of people on their deathbeds is that they didn’t spend enough time with family. The second most meaningful regret is that they didn’t do what they wanted to do. They didn’t take chances. It’s hard to balance relationships and family with our own goals for a fruitful life, but if we pay attention and are aware, we can attune in a more meaningful way and experience can help us see life with a fresh perspective.

One of the great biblical phrases that Jesus often returns to is “Do you have eyes to see and do not see, and ears to hear but do not hear”? What he was trying to say was you’re not paying attention.  You are not attuning to what is really happening here.  When you do, your eyes will see in new ways.  You will experience life and learn to empathize in ways that will help you go deeper.

Another phrase he often elicits is “I’m telling you the truth”.  It appears as if the people in his presence don’t fully believe in what he is saying or they have not awakened to the reality enough to see it fully. This causes problems for them. They have witnessed miracles and they have seen him present new realities of life, but they are not paying attention and do not want to see.

Denial is an unhealthy place to live. We do this politically in our lives.  We rationalize what we need to accept in order to justify our stand in life.  We cannot consider the injustice because it seems to be working out in our favor for the time being.

My nephew Dan was at the border doing his part to help others. He recently graduated from Notre Dame and has a great corporate job waiting for him in Chicago.  He postponed taking the position to volunteer in El Paso. He is fluent in Spanish and Notre Dame connected him with a priest down there. One of the pictures he posted was of a child whose face is between the slats of the fence. The child was on the Mexican side and was hungry. Dan gave him protein bars.  The child’s name is “Jesus”.

That child’s face is imprinted on my mind.  When we look at what’s happening in our world today, are we being honest with what we are seeing? Are we digging deep to do our part to learn to empathize with others and build the Kingdom of God in a richer way? Have we paused to think about what a moment in time has meant for us in our day?

I know that I’m guilty of the above.  It’s hard to stay focused. I know the distractions of life have closed my eyes.

“Pay attention”.

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