Show Up and Pay Attention

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A year ago, as I was getting accustomed to my new normal as a widower, my first compulsion was to travel. Not so much to escape the pain. It’s not in my personality to run from discomfort. I’m more inclined to stare it in the face, knowing I have no intention of blinking.  I’m learning that I like to win these skirmishes.

Loss and grief always present a valuable opportunity for new self awareness. But it doesn’t come easy, even for an introspective person like myself.

At the risk of cliche, the first step in dealing with grief is to show up. Like starting the new job that I feel intimidated by and underqualified for. Get there at 7:45am on Monday morning. I have to first show up or I’m long for the job. The training won’t commence until I’m on site. Even if I’m late, Grief will be patient and wait til I get there.

Travel was one way I showed up.

I traveled quite a bit in college. I found very quickly that travel opened up my mental space to think and reflect. For me, getting out of my familiar surroundings puts me into the right frame of mind to begin to think and process.  

At home, among the four walls of my house, I hear the old stories. This space is packed with years of memories, of good ones and bad ones, both happy and sad.  This creates a cacophony that is especially difficult for me to quiet down

Out on the road, it’s less noisy and my mind is less distracted.

At home, I hear the laundry asking to be folded and the toilet to be scrubbed. The plants and flowers like my attention as does Hank, my dog. 

Outside the windows, I hear the grass asking me to mow it. My vegetable patch breathes an appreciative sigh when I pull the crowding weeds from the seedlings that will present their fruit to me later that season. Hank will start cussing at me if I don’t throw the ball. (He’s the only dog I’ve ever had that swears.)

To all of that, add the noise of the garage begging to be organized and the scratching of tiny claws in the walls that mice are back, and the new self-imposed war against them is about to commence again.

Yes, home is where the heart is, but when the heart is heavy, I need to get somewhere and offload some of that weight. The road lets me travel light.

Through this past 12 months, whenever I would approach the airport terminal or rental car counter, I could feel the anticipation of some kind of reward ahead.  But the reward doesn’t come unless I show up.

Once on the road, my second step is to pay attention. 

My dad formed this quality into me as a young boy. He was so good at paying attention, he could tell me to grab the 9/16” (not the 1/2″) socket just by looking at the bolt that needed tightening. I always hoped I would one day graduate from holding the flashlight to telling the gopher exactly what wrench to get.

It’s a standard practice for people to take pictures on vacation to capture the memories.  But It feels a little weird asking someone to take my picture standing solo in front of a monument. Even a selfie makes me self-conscious. But as I travel alone, I have no companion to use as a reference point for the shared experiences.  

So I started a little project to help me pay attention and archive these newly formed stories that might make you curious and be a good starting point to tell a story about a time and a place that was important to me. I stopped trying to take interesting photos and instead, take pictures of interesting things.

I started seeing my world differently. I didn’t just view life through the same lens of despair. It broadened my perspective. I think it even helped open up my writing. It certainly set my widowhood in a new light. Paying attention to something beautiful took my grief aside and  gently reminded me,

The best is yet to come.

To be continued…