Thursday, November 14, 2013

to sing ourselves to sleep at night


For young people, this widespread involvement [in service] constitutes a school of life which offers them a formation in solidarity and in readiness to offer others not simply material aid but their very selves.
-- Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est

The summer after my freshman year of college, I spent at home.
Which isn't odd at all, in fact, I feel like spending summer at home is a logical and appropriate use of a young collegiate's time.
Because a young collegiate is:
a) broke. b) dependent. and c) tired.
And being at home means that you can live with your parents who are not (as) broke as you, who are much wiser and able to buy you groceries, and you can relax on your couch after a day of working your summer job, and not worry about what your roommates will think of you, or wonder what sort of evils lurk outside the walls of your little city apartment.
Go home, young man, go home.
But, to be honest, Renee-The-Experience-Hoarder was mightily displeased.
Everyone else was going off to on strange and exotic acronymic adventures: SSLP, NDVI, CSLC, HYSP, SSI, LMNOPQRS.
I wanted to put an acronym on my résumé, too.
Instead, my mother told me: you're coming home.
And so I did, partially because I'm an incredibly virtuous, obedient daughter, but mostly because I was  nineteen with very little agency, and it was still my mom's job to call the shots.
So, I returned to the land of ice and snow and disgustingly humid summers to again take up my high school job.
Which was, of course, this.

Uniqua, our Backyardigan friend, gets a little R&R backstage
Yes. I know. Glamorous.
Despite the fact that that summer was neither thrilling nor exotic, it was the best-spent summer of my college career.
That summer, and in particular my job, taught me was how to pay attention.
When you're sitting in a large, fuzzy costume, looking out of the mouth of an unwieldy face helmet, then you become really good at paying attention to the world around you.
You have to constantly be scanning your field of vision, which is small, and noticing which customers of the mall look like they're up for a friendly encounter with a large, unidentified, pink, fuzzy animal, and which ones could potentially decide it's hilarious to trip you, or pick you up, or punch you in the fuzzy pink nose.
Malls, my friends, are filled with the most eclectic of customers.
You watch different parents interact with their children as they bring them up to you to say hello and take a picture.
You see all sorts of parents, and all sorts of families.
If you pay attention, you can learn a lot from their similarities and differences.

During a summer that consisted of keeping track of all my siblings, and playing mom for the greater part of three months, I learned that caring for a family takes a lot of attention.  
You watch the face of a teenager as she says her day was "fine" and have to evaluate whether it's wiser to let the statement rest with "fine" or to probe with a few more questions.
You have to watch an eight-year-old and evaluate whether his temper tantrum means it's time-out time for a stubborn little will, or snack time for an empty stomach.
You have to know when to interrupt a little bookworm's five hour reading binge with a quick tickle-war, and some impromptu girl-chat, or to just bring her a lemonade slushy, and to let her keep reading in peace.

That summer, home became a school of learning to pay attention.
Usually, it is easy, in a place where we feel at home, to stop paying attention.
As I walked to school on bright Monday, I noticed how as soon as I left the lower-income neighborhood I lived in, and walked across the street into the warm embrace of the tree-lined sidewalke, and the massive stone entrance, I let myself relax.
I paid attention to how I stopped paying attention.
But when I made myself pay attention, I felt as though the familiar path between DPAC and Main Circle was a whole new road I'd never seen before.
Pay attention, I told myself, as I started to slip back into my autopilot dream-space.
Pay. Attention.
Pay.
We are all in debt. None of us has deserved a moment of a day by our grand achievements.
Each moment is a gift.
The price that we are asked to pay is our attention.
Each moment of giving away our attention is a school where we learn how to turn ourselves outside of ourselves.
We are reoriented to live for the world outside of us, to live for the person who passes us on her bicycle, who we do not know, but if we paid attention to, could probably learn how to love.

One does not make the world more human by refusing to act humanely here and now.
--Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est

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