Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Could be better, could be worse

How much of your life do you live on autopilot? I asked that question of myself this morning as I drove halfway down our back lane and couldn't recall whether I'd hit the button to close the garage door. So I backed up to be sure that it was closed, and of course it was. And last week, as I left work, I couldn't remember if I'd turned on the answering service. It was a good thing I went back. The answering service was on, but I'd left a window open.

Incidents like these give me pause, because they make me aware that I'm not always present to my own life. And I suspect I'm not the only one. Life these days seems designed to be full of distractions that prevent us from being aware of how we're living or even of those with whom we live. Did you know that it's estimated that the average North American sees 3000 commercial ads every day via billboards, TV and the internet? I didn't look for stats about auditory distractions, but as someone whose concentration is thrown off by music or chatter, I can vouch for the fact that there's plenty to take our minds off the people or activities with which we are supposed to be engaged at any given time. It's gotten to the point that I don't drive with the radio on anymore, and when my girls get home from school, I have to turn the radio/stereo/computer off so I can be fully present if they need me. Otherwise, I'm answering their questions on autopilot, and that can lead to all sorts of difficulties!

I found myself thinking about that autopilot function as I left the hospital this morning. My 89-year-old friend who was the young airman that I moodled about in It was the knickers that did it is being treated for pneumonia. When I asked him how he was, he said, "could be better, could be worse." He's very tired and weak, and it was an effort to hear him above the hospital noise. Focusing on my friend was even more difficult when a nurse came in and began speaking loudly to the man in the next bed. I worked hard to shut out everything but my friend's voice, and was rewarded with a wonderful story before a physiotherapist came to get him up for some exercise.

Those ten minutes that I was putting all my effort into listening to one voice underlined for me the importance of turning off the autopilot function and paying close attention to what's going on. Had I allowed my mind to wander into autopilot mode, nodding and saying, "uh huh," without really hearing, I would have missed something special. I know that my time with my friend is limited because cancer and age have brought him to a precarious state of health. He's also very aware that his time is short, but the look-on-the-bright-side attitude that he's exhibited for the almost eighteen years I've known him is undiminished. "Could be better, could be worse" isn't something a lot of people in his condition are able to say.

My friend is living the moment, never mind autopilot, and inspires me to do the same. My attention levels could be better, or worse. More often than not, it's up to me to decide because I can focus my mind to turn off or cut out the distractions. Sometimes all it takes is shutting off "the media." Why not aim for better? Especially since we never know when we will run out of time to be attentive to the ones we love.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Take a minute and tell me what you think...