I believe in the wonder of undivided attention. Now that multi-tasking is a marketable skill, getting someone’s absolute focus on me and only me is, well, a vanishing pleasure. The clerk in the hardware store gets this faraway look in the middle of telling me how to replace my doorknob, and I realize he has been summoned through his earpiece, abandoning me in my hour of hardware need. My child’s teacher schedules our conference during her make-up test period, so just when I’m confiding my worst fear about my child’s progress, she snaps her head around and reminds a child looking skyward to remember why he’s there. Yeah, I think, him and me both.
It can be both terrifying and liberating to look someone straight in the eye, shut out everything else, and listen. When I’m on the receiving end, oh, my, the sensation is intense. The person sees me, if only for a moment, and we connect. Amazing insights and understanding are exchanged. It is during those moments that I have fallen in love with my husband all over again, seen my child as an adult for the first time, sensed a friend’s crisis of confidence.
My mother showed me that undivided attention is a sure-fire route to truth. When we were kids, she had this technique whenever we told her something she suspected was less than the honest-to-goodness truth. She would challenge us to look her straight in the eye and say “cucumber” twice without laughing. If we could do it, we were telling the truth. She would widen those bright blue eyes of hers and bore straight into our equivocating little psyches, and our mouths would twitch, and we were busted without penalty.
I believe we’re all starved for undivided attention, and I’m positive we crave it from birth. It must be why my little boy let me read him absolutely anything at bedtime, even a Pogo cartoon anthology he didn’t understand a word of. It’s why I never once successfully finished feeding a toddler once I answered the phone — that baby would find a hundred ways to reclaim my undivided attention. Even the Big Guy wants it. Why else would my Sunday School teacher begin my religious education by showing me how to fold my hands and close my eyes so nothing would distract me while I said my prayers?
I don’t want undivided attention to become a vanishing art, some quaint relic like lace-tatting or butter-churning. As we all try to cram more and more into the same 24 hours, and as our world gets stuffed fuller and fuller of ways to do several things at once, I don’t want to lose the ability to train my attention on one thing at a time. If I can just fend off multi-tasking and muster my undivided attention, I believe I can be a better driver, a better lover, a better parent, a better friend.
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