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We are all trying to strike a balance between reclaiming ourselves/doing things for ourselves and remaining connected with the friends, families and contacts in our lives.
“Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity” – Simone Weil, 1942
While these words were spoken by a young woman more than 76 years ago, I suspect they have never been truer or more needed to be said.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be fully present; to resist distraction, to listen without forming answers, to sit with someone else and take in every word they have to say, curious, captivated, alert.
For an outgoing, bubbly and friendly introvert, this does not always come easily to me. And spoiler alert: that is precisely the point, but more on that later.
A very dear and special friend came to visit me this last weekend. An all-round loving, generous woman and a fabulous primary teacher, she drove 300kms in one direction to spend precious school holiday time with me, stay the night and then drive those 300kms back the next day.
Having completed that drive myself, more times than I care to remember, I know how draining it is, especially done in such a short window of time.
She arrived on a sunny winter morning, bearing gifts of blueberries, strawberries and coffee-flavoured dark chocolate. We sat in my cosy flat and drank tea, freshly steeped in a pot, from fine pink and white china cups. We ate cake, homemade lemon, coconut cake and enjoyed the moment. We talked, catching up on life, sharing philosophy and faith, laughing about ourselves and our families in only the way friends who have known each other many years can. This time was a rare gift in our busy and distant lives.
As I reflect on this encounter, the thing that stands out to me most, is how she listened. Deeply and with undivided attention, my friend listened and was present.
I’m the first to admit that I can be an unreliable friend, as much as I hate to do so. I forget to reply to messages, I bail on social events, I don’t reach out as often as I’d like, and then sometimes when I do I’m somewhere else, thinking of all the things I have to do and all the things I should say. It’s not the kind of person I want to be and it’s not something of which I’m proud, but it’s the truth.
If I’m honest, I sometimes feel too tired to be generous, too worn out from the grinding routine of work, chores, sleep, repeat. I’m a sensitive soul, that I’ve known for some time now. I take things on, they weigh me down. As a family friend once said, “you think too much”.
While the plight of the over-thinking, intuitive introvert is sometimes a burden, I think I owe it to myself and those around me to remember the hidden blessings it can bring.
In my thinking, I’ve been wondering if perhaps we are losing a sense of what it means to sacrifice. In a world where everything comes easily (convenience stores and fast food, online shopping and endless entertainment at the click of a button), I can’t help but ask, are we becoming reluctant to put in effort, especially if the rewards are not so obvious or immediate?
It’s against this background that recently, I decided I want to work on being a better friend. And the first thing I’m going to do is focus on giving my undivided attention, freely and generously.
Where popular culture teaches us to focus on ourselves and always put our needs first, the simple act of paying attention is a radical one.