I have been alone the past few days. Donna travelled to Nashville for the week to be with our amazing granddaughters and their sometimes amazing parents on the occasion of their 7th and 9th birthdays which are a week apart. I like a little alone time, given my commitments to introversion as a superior form of human life. And I admit that I use the time to indulge some of life’s enjoyments not shared by Donna. I had portabello mushrooms with my ribeye tonight. The bed has gone unmade for a few days and I nearly have it the way I like it. I shaved today only because I went to church and didn’t want to scare the customers or be mistaken for a homeless person and asked by the well-meaning saints if they could help me. And tonight, for the third night in a row, I sat in my backyard (or Sara Barton’s backyard since she planted nearly everything here) and smoked a cigar and enjoyed my favorite beverage while listening to Bob Dylan on my mini-Bose bluetooth speaker.
But what I discovered by being outside was the world that prcedes me and calls me into attentiveness. Tonight as I walked out the back door and into the yard, I scared the deer who were checking out our yard for something sweet and green to destroy. And they scared and thrilled me as they bounded into the woods with long and powerful leaps. I noticed a little orange beaked bird with a punk haircut who evidently is a neighbor of mine, having flitted around all three nights. And the fireflies were everywhere. My sense of all this was different than watching them through the window, from my space. I was in the space we shared and my perceptions of all of this were different. I was a co-participant in the world, not just an observer or consumer.
Last night my neighbor was cleaning his grill or doing something busy and industrious, which is how I always notice him through my window. But he risked the boundary that makes “good neighbors” and walked into my back yard and we talked for a half-hour or so. We shared our perceptions of the scariness of advancing technology, talked about the new pope, and about the importance of nieghborhoods like ours for keeping the virtual world handed to us by Amazon and Google at bay.
I have not been alone.
And while I have allowed myself a few indulgences, the fact is I have missed my wife. But not in an achey, needy kind of way. I am thrilled that she is with Autumn and Mya and their parents (who will remain nameless because they took our grandchildren to live in Tennessee), but because she surrounds me in this space. It is ours and I sense her in every movement through our house, our home, our shared life.
Her father died in February and our neighbors gave her a gift certificate to a local nursery so she could plant something to remember him by. So, before she left she picked out some flowering shrubs and we planned a little flower garden full of color so she could remember him in the bright colors that bring her delight. So, I have labored a little each day in the new memorial garden, not because I enjoy my lower back being stiff and my knees sore in exchange for dirt under my nails, but becuase I thought this might please her. And we live in a neighborhood of beautiful garden spaces, so I labored also under their gaze (real or imagined) because I have come to value their facility with beauty and want to hold up my end.
I have not been alone.
And I’ve done the dishes and laundary and swept floors and watered plants in a way more caring that I did in my old bachelor pad, because this is where Donna lives with me. Now I surely want her to think of me as a trustworthy co-habitant and would feel awful if her disapproval were evident when she gets home, but I did these things also because we have a shared life and I feel closer to her when I do them. I feel a part of her through these rituals of a shared life even when she is in Tennessee.
All these things require attentiveness. I could plant flowers and shrubs simply out of duty. But I took care to think of her, how she might feel or respond, which requires not only an attentiveness in the act of planting, but also a prior attentiveness to the way she lives and moves and cares, to the way she attends to the world in front of her.
I could’ve binged watched West Wing the entire time she was gone and completed my ninth viewing of the entire series and texted her heart emoticons from my place on the couch and lived on skinny pop and coke zero, the convenience food than enables this kind of virtual existence. And I would have risked less by doing this, than placing shrubs and flowers in places that she might find ultimately wrong-headed (its possible we might be re-planting many of these things), but the risk is worth it because regardless of the outcome, we will discover each other and ourselves in deeper way by attending to our differences.
So, this past week, though I have been alone, I have been made aware of the richness of the world that I share with others through attentiveness. I am reading Matthew Crawford’s book, The World Beyond Your Head, a very important book in my estimation, in which he argues that the cultural value of autonomy expressed in so many ways and instrumentalized by a virtual consumerism leaves us less and less attentive to the world that we live in. More and more, we can live in a virtual world, a world inside our heads, that caters to our desires and feelings which in turn moves us away from real connections to others and the world we live in. Reading Crawford’s book has confirmed my growing sense that life in the Spirit requires an ecology of attentiveness. More, I am convinced that the attentive life, an embodied life with others in the world, produces the fruit of the Spirit, things like thankfulness and patience and joy.
And this is the way to live in the world created by a God who is attentive as well. God is not a set of abstractions or impersonal forces that delivers certain outcomes for those who can master the “seven steps to this” or the “five things that wildly succesful people do that you don’t.” God is the one, rather, who takes notice of us, who has doings with us, and calls us to a world outside of ourselves through the love of God and neighbor.
Come, Holy Spirit and draw us out of ourselves to attend to the world God has prepared for us.