The Beauty of Paying Attention


May 18, 2014, Washington, DC: Sunday morning. Paul Simon plays softly on the record player. I open the front door to retrieve the Sunday Times. I look left and right in awe of the colorful rose bushes that have overtaken in my neighbors' little yards up and down the block. White tents rise at Eastern Market across the park. Pancakes, crepes and homemade donuts are being prepared for the morning crowd. Inside the house, coffee brews and our newborn rests peacefully in my arms, soothed by Simon's lullabies: "Was a sunny day, not a cloud was in the sky, not a negative word was heard, from the people passing by..."  I open the newspaper to "36 Hours on Capitol Hill," delighted that today my favorite section of the paper features my favorite neighborhood. I watch the places referenced in the article stir to life from the front door. My stomping grounds are truly as good as New Yorkers have made them out to be. "There is ecstasy in paying attention." Yesterday I reread those words in Anne Lamott's book, Bird by Bird, having returned to her guide on writing in search of the encouragement to keep putting pen to paper during these blurry weeks of getting to know the newest member of our family. Happily, what I found were some thoughts that united this new phase of life with the craft of writing and the subject of Neighborhood Nomads itself: "Writing can give you what having a baby can give you," she wrote. "It can get you to start paying attention, can help you soften, can wake you up."

"We may notice amazing details during the course of a day but we rarely let ourselves stop and pay attention," she continues.

Already we are stopping and paying attention to new and different aspects of our surroundings with baby girl. We notice which sidewalks have curbs not conducive to strollers and which of them need repair. We walk more slowly and stick closer to home. We pause to identify flowers outside the grand homes on East Capitol and try to learn which of these plants and flowers will thrive in full sun. We take breaks to rest on benches we're used to running right by in Lincoln Park, memorizing our newborn's facial expressions and cries in these previously untapped moments of sitting still.

We are getting used to the idea that our days, at least for now, will not be structured like they used to be. Our time is not organized like it was a few weeks ago. Now the hours are spent taking a moment to rest, a moment to begin, a moment to breathe. For now, our only plan is to pay attention to each other and to our surroundings here on Capitol Hill. And we are grateful there's no need to pack it all in to 36 hours.

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