My Turn: A lesson in paying attention


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

I don’t like messy bathrooms. I particularly don’t like the bathrooms strewn with paper towels that you sometime encounter in rest stops. Sometimes I particularly don’t like my husband’s bathroom.

I grew up in a one-bathroom home. Five people, sometimes six, shared a single bathroom. We managed, we really did. Actually I didn’t know anyone with more than one bathroom, not for a long time. Back then, two bathrooms seemed the height of luxury or excess. As a family, we congregated in the bathroom and shared information in ways that seemed natural and convenient. Although, I have to admit that such close quarters have lost their appeal so that now, here I am, in my seventies, with two bathrooms (his and hers) for only two people. And I am resolved to keep it that way.

And here’s the other thing, if you were to visit us, you’d be well advised to use hers, not his. For one thing, it’s nicer. It’s got a better shower/tub arrangement and of course all that pretty toiletry/soapy décor. I also have to point out that it’s cleaner, which it is, except that I also clean his. I clean his because sometimes he doesn’t, at least not on my timetable. Eventually, he would, I don’t mean that he is reluctant to take his turn with the domestic chores, but rather that he doesn’t notice when things get messy. When I notice, which I do, I think, well I think unkind things, but then I have to remind myself that there’s a lot of things I don’t notice that he does.

So to be specific and also fair, here are some things I don’t notice:

When the outdoor vent on the dryer gets plugged up and the dryer makes that earthquake rumble, and if not unplugged, could cause a fire. (Of course it’s outside and I can’t see it so ...) Or that rattle in the car, which I don’t hear if the radio is on and I’m singing. Or the tree rot in several trees closest to the house, or finally, and so as not to belabor this point, all the arduous work it takes to balance our budget. Can we deduce from this that pathways exist in our brain that link what we notice to what we care about, which then informs what we care to notice?

I decided to pay more attention to my day-to-day noticing. I discovered how much small civilities make for a better day: For example, “good morning” greetings. Or when drivers stop to let me through traffic. Or that friendly exchange I had with a stranger while waiting in line at CVS. And then the other morning, just as the fog lifted, two fawns appeared at the edge of our yard; a welcome surprise. Checking in, I was aware of how it adds up, lightens the load and improves my mood. And how much, even in the briefest of encounters, we influence each other.

Which made me think about the broader, more complex events that also have sway in a world so threatened, and threatening, in these politically fraught times.

I thought about how I am so touched by the evidence of our humanity, by the stories of rescue and sustenance for those stricken by the recent hurricane disasters in Puerto Rico, Houston and Florida, and too the sight of the ceaseless bucket brigades in Mexico.

And the concerted outcry from so many fellow Americans against rescinding DACA, including the recent community dialogue (or outspoken voices) on the controversial topic of “safe cities.” Or by the work of organizations such as Just Roots, to create more food security here in Franklin County. Then, too, the various crews (including fifth graders) cleaning up our waterways; or the concerted efforts of local clinics to offer medical treatment for addiction, as an alternative to the policies of incarceration. And so close to my heart, the commitment of some of our community schools to educate children with a social justice curriculum.

And this, I’m sure, is a short list. Awareness spreads. And the caring grows. After all, attention is what makes the invisible visible.

Ruth Charney lives in Greenfield.