What we must give

There are all sorts of ways to give the gift of attention. Photos taken 1996-2014

There are all sorts of ways to give the gift of attention.
Photos taken 1996-2014

“Attention is love, what we must give
children, mothers, fathers, pets,
our friends, the news, the woes of others.
What we want to change we curse and then
pick up a tool. Bless whatever you can
with eyes and hands and tongue. If you
can’t bless it, get ready to make it new.”  — Marge Piercy

When I first created my little garret retreat ten years ago, I papered the unfinished walls with images and words that meant something to me.  One of the first things to go on that wall was this verse from Piercy.

Attention, it seems, is one of the most endangered gifts in today’s world.  When I read Piercy’s assertion that “attention is love,” it had the ring of truth.  Why else do we all crave attention, in one form or another, and go to such lengths, in such a variety of ways, to obtain it?

I’d like to be wise enough to see my attention as the finite resource that it is, and guard closely how it is spent.  Yet it seems so easy to squander, like a dripping faucet that will quietly waste untold gallons if left to itself.   What I fritter mindlessly away, someone else needs.  Their need for someone’s attention — possibly my attention —  may even be crucial.

I’ve heard people say that they don’t feel they have much to give others.  Sometimes when we feel helpless in the face of suffering or sadness, we say “I wish I knew what to do.”  Perhaps one place to start is by offering the gift of attention, through a few kinds words, a note, a prayer, or the increasingly rare face-to-face visit.

As Piercy’s words suggest, attention is a starting point, not a destination.  But every good thing that happens has a beginning, and often, it begins with someone noticing what others were too busy to see.

What can you bless today?  What needs your touch to make it new?  Pay attention. Then pick  up a tool.

One year ago today:

Pay attention


  1. singleseatfighterpilot

    For me, the answer is a certain one-year-old.

  2. Ann

    Julia, another thought provoking blog. Thank you for the challenge to pay attention and pick up a shovel. As I end my morning quiet time, I’ll keep that thought with me.

    P.S. Just read last year’s blog and saw my comment, it brought back a happy memory😄

    • Thank you, Ann. I’m so happy you uncovered a gem from the past to remember. In all my life, I’ve only managed a daily journal for two (nonconsecutive) years, so this blog is the closest thing I have to that. Sometimes when I’ll read through the comments on an old post, there will be mention of things I have completely forgotten about. That’s been one nice thing about keeping up with it daily. Thanks for being here with us.

  3. Guilty as charged, and now I have to run off to work because I over slept. I am glad that you brought this up though, because I’ve been so busy that I haven’t been spending what little attention that I have left over after work very intentionally. Intentional attention. That’s something I could strive for.

    • I like that – “intentional attention.” It would make a great title for a blog, if it isn’t already taken. I will try to remember those words as a handy way to prod myself away from frittering away time on things I don’t really care about.

  4. Carolyn

    Now that Grady is a sweet heart. Will write more later.love to all.

    • Thank you Carolyn! I have been keeping you in my prayers. Hope you are doing well or at least OK. Love to you and Terry.

  5. Carlyle

    Sometimes the best gift of attention is simply looking someone in the eye and LISTENING.

    • Daddy, I agree! And sadly, I think that particular form of attention is most endangered nowadays. Watch any conversation and look for two things: eye contact, and uninterrupted listening. Both tend to be in short supply. Texting, email and other written communication solve the interruption problem (or at least contain it) but the eye contact is missing. That’s why face to face conversations will always have an added dimension.

      • singleseatfighterpilot

        To Carlyle and Julia: When speaking of ideals, let’s not be too literal. Attentive listening can take place with eyes looking forward, on the road (if the listener is driving). Eye contact only becomes important if one of the would-be conversationalists avoids eye contact – that sends a definite message. Using the modern communication media, a fluent back-and-forth of either texting or email, followed by days of silence is indication of another message – severe physical limitation? – personal anxiety? – or maybe even dissatisfaction with the previous fluency.

        • Ah, but I still think conversations held with someone driving a car are completely different. There is a very special aspect to undivided time, all the more so because it is so scarce in today’s world. Partial attention will never be quite the same thing as full attention – and one hopes that anyone driving will have at least some part of the conscious mind firmly on the road ahead. Avoidance of eye contact, too, can be without intentional messages; in some cultures it’s actually considered disrespectful to make direct eye contact, and some are just naturally shy and fearful of it, especially around those of us who might come across with more intensity than we realize. As for the “message” inherent in a break in communication – you do not list the most common reasons I know of: computer malfunctions, overfull email boxes that cause messaged to be missed, or urgent distractions that take precedence (such as medical issues, all to common for some of us). In other words: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k80nW6AOhTs 😀 😀 😀 JUST KIDDING!

  6. bobmielke

    I believe I’ve mentioned before my love for the words of Simon & Garfunkel’s “I am a Rock”. I have my books
    And my poetry to protect me;
    I am shielded in my armor,
    Hiding in my room, safe within my womb.
    I touch no one and no one touches me.
    I am a rock,
    I am an island.

    And a rock feels no pain;
    And an island never cries.

    The words cry out for attention, any attention. I’ve known extreme loneliness and know the craving it creates. I sometimes think my cats saved my life back during those dark days. No one shows you unconditional love like a pet, except God.

    • Bob, until you mentioned it, I never thought of those words as crying out for attention. But thinking of the people I know who come to mind when I read them (including myself) I think you are right. I agree with you that animals who live with us are a saving grace when we feel the pain of loneliness. They are somehow able to communicate strongly the message we most need to hear: “I like you and I choose to be with you whenever I can. I am with you no matter what else is going on.” I think God shows his love to us in many unique ways, and the love that is shown through animals is quite different from that of humans.

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