A few weeks ago, I was having a heart-to-heart with a good friend. Admittedly, I don’t remember the details of what we were talking about. I just know that it had to do with learning to really listen to someone else instead of thinking about what you're going to say next …
(If you're laughing now, just wait. It gets better … )
During this conversation, I was reminded of one of my favorite poems by Mary Oliver, titled “Praying.” I compulsively wanted to recite it for him.
I don’t know if he noticed that I was so caught up in what I wanted to share that I wasn’t really listening to him, but he’s a good friend, and he let me share it anyway without calling me out. As it turned out, he didn’t need to because the poem did.
When I shared those words, I felt the regular rhythms of the cherished poem in my body. But when I got to the end, something felt off. I knew I forgot something.
We spoke further, and I found the book on my bookshelf (still not really listening) ... Then I flipped to the poem. As I scanned it, the line I missed jumped out at me.
Just pay attention.
Those were (no joke) the words I forgot: “Just pay attention.”
The irony of this whole experience washed over me. Suddenly, I could see how much I wasn’t paying attention—so much so that I even left that line out in the poem!
Thank you, dear friend, for listening to me even when I wasn’t listening to you. Thank you, Mary Oliver, for listening within so you could give us the gift of this poem. Thank you, memory, for reminding me, gently, of a skill I still have yet to master.
By Mary Oliver
It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.