Nobody sees a flower – really – it is so small it takes time – we haven’t time – and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.
Years ago, I found myself alone, roaming the streets of Manhattan. I moved slowly and cautiously—mostly due to my six-month pregnant belly. At one point, a museum caught my eye and, ready to be away from crowds for a bit, I wandered into a Georgia O’Keeffe exhibit. I was familiar with her work, but this retrospective gave me a unique opportunity to read about and observe her artistic and personal journey. I thought about how much time she must have spent just staring up close at one thing—a flower or a cow’s skull—and, in contrast, I thought about how quickly my eyes, my thoughts, my feelings so often roam from one thing to the next.
When I left the museum, I felt different. I couldn’t look at Manhattan’s streets the same. I wasn’t overwhelmed; rather I found myself looking up close at a fellow pedestrian’s eyes or at a piece of trash on the sidewalk or a building I passed. It wasn’t only “beautiful” things that caught my eye; I wanted to take everything in!
Skip forward—a decade or so later, a few kids later, a few international moves later and many sorrows and joys and adventures and losses. And during those years, my attention to detail waxed and waned; sometimes I’d be so caught up in the “busy-ness” of life that I forgot…
The other day I was passing my youngest daughter’s room and it was a rare occasion that the door was actually open. (Anyone with teenagers I am sure can relate!) I saw the wall above her desk covered with her drawings—some of which I’d seen before but many were new. I asked her if she didn’t mind if I came in and looked at them; she said she didn’t mind and invited me in.
She told me the stories behind many of her drawings, and I saw that she definitely had been paying attention to detail—to people she’d met, to dreams she’d had, to that one great cup of coffee she’d once had. And there it was—all documented on her wall.
Paying attention takes time, something which we all seem to be so short of these days…or at least we claim to be. I wonder if we just fill our lives with so much stuff so that we don’t have to pay attention—to the art of nature, to the poetry of conversation, to the dance of bodies passing us throughout the day.
Georgia O’Keeffe eventually left New York City; she needed the serenity of the desert to help her pay attention. We can’t always pick up and move or change the particulars of our external lives, but we can change the particular of our internal perspective. We can wake up and engage the art that is greeting us at every moment.
This—to me—is when life is most alive, most real, most meaningful. I encourage you to take time—to see a flower, to see a friend, to see yourself.