What Do I Pay Attention To?

Photo by Morgna Perraud from unsplash.com

I am learning that what I choose to pay attention to shapes me as a person. And it has started me wondering if what we all pay attention to shapes us as a community. Several recent experiences have shone a light on this truth.

Geraldine and I are joining five other friends for a short pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago in Spain later this month. In preparation, I went to the library to look for books set on the Camino. I found a novel based on two visits to the Camino by the authors, Two Steps Forward. As I started reading, I found myself getting frustrated. I couldn’t sort out the characters, and the author seemed to keep changing the point of view. I ignored my frustration and kept reading. On about page one hundred, I noticed something I had seen and ignored. At the beginning of each chapter, there was a name. Sometimes it was Zoe; other times it was Martin.

A light bulb went off! Did this have something to do with my confusion about the characters? Sure enough, I went back and looked. The chapters alternated from the point of view of the two main characters, Zoe and Martin. I laughed aloud and reread the book from the beginning. Now, it made sense. I certainly would have benefitted from a more explicit note about this alternating voice, or perhaps I missed that, too.

The experience got me pondering what else I miss- perhaps things that are more important than understanding a book of fiction. For example, I like to swim and find swimming the backstroke outside a great way to pay attention to the clouds and the deep blue of the sky. A friend of mine who is a photographer introduced me to the idea of paying attention to how the color and shapes of the sky change. I do wake up when I see a beautiful sunset and sometimes go looking for them. There is so much more going on in the sky. There are so many shades of blue and grey; so much art and opportunity for imagination in the rapidly changing formations of the clouds.

I am a creature of habit and enjoy swimming laps. That is my primary goal when going to the pool, a limiting thought. Our pool in Greenbelt, like many, is having difficulty recruiting lifeguards. While we have both an outdoor and indoor pool (until Labor Day), as summer ending and young people returned to school, the indoor pool was frequently closed. This added more competition for lap lanes outside. One day after waiting for a while for a lap lane, the thought came to me that I might just go in an open area of the pool and just float and splash around. The water was refreshingly cool, perfect for a warm late summer day. I could feel the delight of the water and the sun on my face floating with no agenda. There is a lot more to see doing nothing in a pool!

On a more serious note, I was reflecting on my desire to work for more racial justice.  In looking at the list of best sellers on the NY Times and Washington Post lists I was saddened to see how books about anti-racism were no longer there. There was a short run of popularity and then to the back burner.

This observation was balanced by having three different friends tell me about discussion groups they were part of which focused on racial justice. Most of these groups it turns out are in Baltimore, my former hometown. One friend described his involvement as a “White ally” (see last week’s post by Shirin McArthur on this topic)in Stand Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) which looks for ways to support organizations led by people of color. One way White people do that is by supporting legislative goals of organizations led by people of color.

Another friend, involved with me in organizing the Seeing our Whiteness circle, commented he had been in a similar group exploring white fragility, led by a political activist Heather Mizeur, now running for Congress.

 A third friend in Baltimore, a long-time organizer there, told me about two groups, one at his parish (St Vincent’s) and another organized by those involved with the Jesuit church St Ignatius in downtown Baltimore. If I were not committed to learning about my White privilege and what I can do to advance racial justice, I doubt I would have known about any of these very positive activities pursuing that goal.

What are you paying attention to? What is shaping your experience in community?


  • Tom Adams

    Tom Adams writes and speaks on topics vital to the intersection of our personal lives with our community and global lives. He has for decades been engaged in and written about nonprofit leadership and transitions, spirituality and spiritual growth, how we each contribute to a more just and equitable world and recovery from addictions and the Twelve Step recovery movement.


  1. sally mac

    Because I love to read non-fiction, I pay attention to recent authors who promote their wares on the air waves. It helps me keep abreast of movements and progressive opinion.
    It has translated to my applying to be a Literacy Volunteer in Atlanta, just today! Stay tuned…

    • Tom Adams

      Sounds like a great window on the Atlanta world. Let us know what you see! Tom