My Facebook wall this month has been filled with graduations: photos of precious little ones receiving their diplomas from preschool, tall young men and women in their diploma hats and robes smiling in joy at the accomplishment of high school and college graduations, even gauky teenagers on their way to middle school.
And most of the parent comments when they share these moments with the world is some form of “where did the time go?” and advice to others such as “In the blink of an eye they grow up, so enjoy every moment.” Advice to “pay attention” because it goes so quickly – before you know it your baby in the car seat is now behind the wheel driving.
The wisdom of “enjoy every moment” comes from the fact that for most of us, we move so quickly through our days, dealing with what’s up next, hardly stopping long enough to breathe in the awesomeness that surrounds us.
It’s become “normal” to pay attention to more than one thing at a time – I remember the conversations I had with friends about what to do with our teenagers who listened to music and did homework at the same time! Now, it’s way more complicated – we can be online commenting on Facebook or twitter while watching The Emmys, with our cell phones at the ready to take a call, with perhaps our ipads blinking that we’ve received a new message.
From an article on blinking and how it helps us pay attention: “Attention has a limited capacity and is highly selective. We can only attend to a maximum of three or four things at any one time, and doing so can make us completely oblivious to everything else in our surroundings. In order to notice something, we have to focus our attention onto it, and this involves disengaging our attention from what we are already focused on, then shifting our gaze and re-allocating our attentional resources onto something new.”*
Of COURSE our attention is split. It’s overwhelming sometimes how much there is to pay attention to. The thing is – we can learn how to pay better attention to what’s really important. It takes practice. Meditation helps, body awareness like yoga helps, Shabbat helps, taking a walk in the garden or around the block helps.
These practices help us re-calibrate. To stop, long enough to ask ourselves: what am I grateful for today? Have I told the people I love how special they are? Am I running too fast through the day? Have I looked at my partner today and noticed the ways he supports me and thanked him?
Simone Weil once said: “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” Author Jonathan Safran Foer quoted her this past weekend in a gorgeous piece in the New York Times called How Not To Be Alone**. He writes about how the pull of technology is taking us farther and farther away from what we all deeply want and need: “Everyone wants his parent’s, or friend’s, or partner’s undivided attention — even if many of us, especially children, are getting used to far less.” We remember, don’t we, those people and conversations, where someone looked into our eyes and really wanted to know, “how ARE you?” because they had decided to take the time to really listen. (Thank you to my friend Rabbi Sara Zacharia for sharing this article with me.)
And friends help: they can remind us – even on Facebook. When I read someone’s post about their child graduating from elementary school, it reminds me to call our sons in their 20’s just to tell them how proud I am of the human beings they have become, and how sweet the memories are of their graduations each year.
So – thank you all my Facebook friends, who have children and nieces and nephews all over the age map – for sharing your photos and advice. I may not personally know your graduate, but you reminded me, once again, to cherish all the moments that if not noticed, go by in the blink of an eye.