Love and Attention

One of my favorite movies of the past couple of years was 2018’s Ladybird starring Saoirse Ronan and Beanie Feldstein.

She prefers to be called Ladybird as a rejection of her mother, and every desire she has in high school is to get out of her hometown, Sacramento, CA, in order to go to college in New York and become her own person.

Ladybird goes to a catholic school and has a nun as a college and career advisor. As she is looking over her admissions essays, Sister Sarah Joan is impressed with how she writes.

“You write about Sacramento beautifully,” she says to Ladybird one afternoon. “You must clearly love Sacramento.”

Ladybird is stunned, because she wants to get out more than anything, but she demurs. “Well, I do pay attention.”

“Do you not think,” the Sister says, “that they are one and the same thing? Love, and attention?”

I get chills and almost cry just thinking about it and typing it here. I now live by this line.

Paying attention is becoming a very difficult thing to do: we have the entire world on stand still, yet digitally we’re trying to do everything we can to stay connected, to be involved. And so our attention is atomized, broken up into little bits. And we are desperate for the dopamine releases of video games, friends on Zoom or Messenger, or the drip feed that seems to be constant and looming, which is the news on COVID-19.

I have been a follower of Sam Harris for a long time now, and I have just decided to subscribe to his podcast.

Ironically, it had to do with this post on Twitter about how he would be willing to provide his podcast for free to those who could not pay for it. So I purchased a subscription simply because he offered it for free.

A bit of reverse psychology going on there.

In one of his podcasts, an earlier one of this year with Judson Brewer on how to quiet the mind, he stated, “Boredom is simply the failure to pay attention.”

And I suddenly came back to Ladybird and why I loved that line so much.

It may be tempting to reduce life right now to shifting between panic and boredom. But I am here to say that there are still so many spaces in between the notes of the music we’re playing, right now, that are still just as important. Consider this an opportunity for you to respond to the world by paying attention. However you go about that. Whether it’s meditation, or whether it’s writing, or whether it’s making videos or taking pictures, whether it’s engaging in a deep conversation and recording it to share with the world, or whether it is simply to appreciate how good an orange tastes, knowing that vitamin C is an attempt to keep your immune system up.

Go for it.

This is just as much a harrowing tragedy as much as it is an opportunity for self-discovery. We are still too close to history right now, the images too out of focus, the audio too much noise, and we could even say that we are running out of words to describe the unprecedented experience of the coronavirus. But until that all shakes out, be present. Be aware. Pay attention.

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