When my Curly Girl was 5 or 6, one of her greatest pleasures was pushing her own cart at Trader Joe’s. “I can have my own, Mommy?” she would ask, and I’d smile, pull a little red TJ’s kiddie cart out for her and tell her to put a few things in it.
Full confession, I did so begrudgingly–because it was more work for me to keep up with her unwieldy carting and my own grocery shopping. Without fail, there would be a minor collision in the produce aisle. Because it is hard–so hard–when you are in kindergarten and are trying to push a cart as big as you and also be aware of everything and everyone around you. Right?
It’s always been an important thing for me to be able to teach her awareness. “Slow down kiddo,” I say when we come up behind an elderly person moving slowly, “We can wait.” “Watch out for those around you,” I say when she’s pushing a now full-size grocery cart, but looking at the gazillion cereal choices on the shelves instead of the path in front of her. “Do not look at your phone while you’re walking,” I admonish. “Pay attention, baby,” I say all the time, when we’re in a crowded place, or travelling, or moving forward in a line.
She’ll tell you I’m strict (I’m okay with this). And often what I’m telling her is, of course, a needed reminder to me as well, as my brain is generally full of far more things than is helpful or necessary.
But mostly, I want her to learn the practice of awareness–aware of people, location, behavior, weather, danger…all of it. Because mostly, I think, life is hard. And it is too chaotic. And sometimes it just hurts us or wears us out. And so we retreat inward, the thoughts or tasks that are right in front of us becoming all-consuming.
We miss things when this happens.
Last weekend, I was privy to a group conversation that touched on some difficult topics–in particular, topics that can sometimes trigger the place in my soul where I tend to grief and pain. It was a safe conversation, with caring people involved, and so I was fine–just not very talkative.
Two days later, I got a text from a friend who was also part of the conversation, a friend who has known me for 13 years and so knows more than a bit about my life. “I just wanted to check on you,” she said, “because I know we talked about some difficult things and I just wanted to see if you are okay.”
Now, my friend is a therapist, specifically with trauma-informed training, plus she’s just generally an empathetic person. She has skills. Gifts.
But still…. Aware.
Aware that someone in the room might be reliving some pain. Aware that we all have our stories and sometimes those stories come to light in painful ways. Aware of the ways life beats us up and how that beating pervades our very beings.
Yesterday, my Uncle Matt posted on social media something his sister once wrote, “Stop thinking about yourself and start thinking about who needs a casserole.”
Pithy, sure. An effective tweet. But also? A call to awareness.
- Who around you might be in pain today?
- Who do you know who needs checking on?
- Where will you be today that might call for you to look and listen just a bit more intentionally?
- What person in your life, even if marginally, might need a casserole?
How, today, can you practice awareness?
We live in a bubble of social media hot takes and supposed newsworthy sound bytes these days–an isolating narrative of our own making that does nothing to foster our best humanity. And we are, most of the time, blissfully unaware of what might be at work in those around us, never mind global conflict and suffering.
And I am confident–confident, y’all–that if we practiced less judgment and control and certainty and more compassion and awareness and listening, we could, collectively, move the needle of our communities and our country towards a way of being that would make space for such desperately needed healing and wholeness.
It isn’t, after all, all about me. Or you. It’s about all of us. And when one of us is not okay, the very best thing would be for the rest of us to practice a little awareness and start making casseroles.