Choosing to be Distracted

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Katie distracts easily these days.

I say this as though it’s a surprise. It isn’t. She’s two, the age when the world is alight with wonder, when everything is new and worthy of exploration, when the fascination of this moment outweighs any plan or purpose for the future. Two is all about the now, so caught up in the present that any new thing captures her completely.

Even as I think of this tendency of hers, I laugh. Though it can be exasperating at times, there’s something sweet in sending my girl down the hall for her socks and shoes, and, after three minutes of suspicious silence, finding her perusing a previously undiscovered grocery receipt, her errand forgotten as she squats down to turn it over in her small hands. The child in me loves the fact that our walks, even those where she is in the stroller, are no longer about exercise, no matter a question of how much distance we can fit into an allotted time. We stop to throw rocks off of the driveway, to greet the horses and cows and dogs who live along the path, to stare upward in search of the airplane droning overhead. I relish the way her task of helping me water the garden is discarded the moment she finds a worm, the poor creature’s day made much the worse because of a small girl’s attention. She takes it all in, exclaiming as we go, this girl of mine.

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Katie has something in common with the older generation, with those who are her great-grandparents, for I’ve also witnessed such distractibility in those who have dwelt long on the earth, those who find themselves once again living fully in the present moment. It comes full-circle, it seems: once we reach a certain age, once forgetfulness and dementia begin to eat away at our memories and we are no longer looking to the future, we often revert to childhood, to wonder.

Somewhere in between, though, life gets in the way.

Life gets in the way, and responsibilities beckon, calling us away from the practice of wonder. The future calls, with all of its worries, and there are tasks to finish, jobs to do, things that must be accomplished. As an adult, I cannot lose myself in the moment – at least not in the way my toddler does – when dinner must be made or a project must be completed, when there are others relying on me to get things done.

This isn’t to say I can’t be distracted. I am far too often pulled away from things I should be doing by the lure of social media, by the eye-catching, flashy headlines that scream for my attention. The world contrives to keep me busily hopping from one thing to another, to catch me in the lie of the multi-task, to give my brain the momentary high of another alert or notice or message. Rather than calling me to be present in this moment, to set aside my agenda for the sake of awe, it pulls me out of the here and now, takes me away from the reality surrounding me. Those in the know are right when they encourage me to eliminate such distractions for the sake of art, for the sake of my own spiritual well-being.

As I watch my girl navigate her world, though, I’m reminded that there are distractions and there are distractions, and that some distractions are beautiful. Good. Inspiring. Some distractions are constructive, and yet, too often, I ignore them for the bright and shiny, for the trivial and fleeting. When was the last time I stopped to admire a flower petal, or to listen to birdsong, or to watch the sun set? How long has it been since I allowed the world around me – the real world, not the virtual one – to interrupt my agenda and my plans? How much do I permit busyness to dictate my days?

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She invites me to wonder with her, this girl of mine, as she brings her treasures to me. She holds a worm up to me, telling me what it is over and over again until I stop what I’m doing, lean down, acknowledge what she has. She reminds me to pause in the midst of my own plans to notice what is happening around me.

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She invites me to be present here, now. To choose, this moment, to wonder. To be distracted by all the beauty, all the goodness, all the fascinating world surrounding me.

Family and Parenting, This Thing Called Life

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