Who Will Notice? Paying Attention to What Matters

Today I woke up in a funk. I felt a bit overwhelmed and didn’t know what to do next, even though my list was long. To clear my head (or more likely to procrastinate), I decided to go for a short walk.

Photo credit: Jennifer Mathews © 2014

Behind my house there is a narrow path along a steep embankment. Following it leads you through the trees and eventually to Lake Siskiyou. I’ve been out of town recently and hadn’t walked here for at least a month.

When I got to the back of my neighbor’s house, two doors down, the path had been raked smooth. It’s typically covered with long pine needles, sticks and small rocks. But I could see fine lines in the dirt from a rake, like a Zen sand garden. The fact that someone took the time and care to maintain the trail felt so welcoming. My mood started to shift.

In the fall, I had also found the whole trail spruced up this way. It touched me then, too, and I told people about it for weeks. A quarter-mile long path raked without recognition, a random act of beautification.

The difference one person can make

When I continued on my walk, I came upon a man with a metal rake, still slowly clearing away any debris. “So you’re the one who does this! Thank you!” I said, so excited to get to appreciate him in person. He nodded. “I do it twice a year.” Likely in his 70s, I could feel his sense of purpose in the biannual task.

I told him I noticed the difference it made right away, and how grateful I had been last November. I promised myself to help with whatever section of the trail is beyond what he completed. I liked the idea of contributing in this subtle, quiet way.

Then I carried on with my walk.

I noticed the scent of fresh cedar, the sound of Wagon Creek flowing below. By the time I got to the wider public trail past the bridge, I started thinking of my life-partner Kate. The freshness of springtime reminded me of her, and what a nature girl she was. I started feeling disappointed that she never got to enjoy living on our street or walking to the lake directly from our house. We had settled in to our new place only a month before her symptoms of advanced cancer appeared.

I looked at the fresh light green tips of the fir trees as I walked by them. She would have noticed them too. I breathed in deeply, wishing I could hold her hand.

And then, my mind drifted to a different hand – the task at hand. To the work I needed to do when I got home. At least I could engage in that, rather than wishing for a scenario that just wasn’t going to happen. At least I could focus on creating my new website and bringing Kate into the world again in a way I know how – through my words.

The desire to get noticed by others

This may seem trivial or tangential, but as I walked along I started debating whether I want to keep my current website design, or change it to another Wordpress theme I found the other day. I still hadn’t directed people to my site. I quickly slipped into my decision-making brain, flipping and flopping between options as each step I took kicked dry dirt onto the bottoms of my pants.

I’m telling you this because of the words that came next. Get noticed. Get noticed.

The new design template I’m considering is called “Get Noticed!” and these words began repeating in my mind. It’s a brilliant name since it can hook in writers and self-employed consultants like me. “Get Noticed!” has all sorts of features that streamline blogging and would completely bore you unless you get excited about SEOs, platforms and sidebar widgets. But more so, there’s an emotional tug. Get noticed. Is this what I want? I thought. To get noticed?

I walked by the large tree trunks, occasionally touching their rough bark as I asked myself this question.

I want to touch people’s lives

I decided to begin a blog again – this blog – in order to connect with people and share my experience about death, life, joy and grief. To offer my writing as a way to contribute to the world in less subtle ways than raking a section of a foot-wide path in the woods. I’m not interested in writing in a vacuum. I’m not interested in adding to the volumes of notebooks and computer files I already have stashed away. I’ve researched many opinions about design and gone back and forth between expressing who I am or following utilitarian advice.

But isn’t what I want to “get noticed in a noisy world” as the creator of the website template says in his promotional materials? Is it time to focus on that, to succumb to a design that promises I’ll increase readership, or I’ll get my money back? Sometimes it’s tempting to ignore my vision and just do what the experts say.

Get noticed in a noisy world, Jen. Or else you may be invisible and all your efforts and work will be for what? You’ll have nothing to show for the hours. And you won’t touch very many people’s lives. My inner critic often makes good points.

But as I walked along, I affirmed that what I really want is to help create a less noisy world.

I want to help people notice the stillness in the chaos, the silence in a world of stimulation, the beauty in the apparent ugliness so that we all give ourselves a long, deep breath and pause long enough to simply notice life.

Is it enough to show up, noticed or not?

While the website I’ve created isn’t perfect, with glitches I have no idea yet how to tweak or fix, I’m glad to be showing up. Is it enough to show up? Isn’t it more important to get noticed? Can both happen naturally? I’ve been sitting with all of this for days, waiting for clarity before I announce my blog and share it with you.

Finally, I asked myself: What would Kate say?

She would say to notice. Just notice.

And instantly, I was back where I started, responding to the beauty around me rather than calculating how to get people to share my blog on Facebook or subscribe to my newsletter. I breathed in the fresh air, deeper this time, and let this all sink in. And words from what is known as the Prayer of St. Francis – one we said daily in my Catholic school as the morning prayer – came to mind:

Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.

And my answer appeared in a new line:

To be noticed as to notice.

Grant that I may not so much seek
to be noticed as to notice . . . 

For it is in noticing that we appreciate. And it is in appreciating that we connect to all of life.

What matters most on my journey

Kate taught me this. She is the reason I noticed those fresh light green tips of the fir trees, the smooth lines in the dirt of the raked path, the size of the pinecones. She is the reason you are here reading my words. She is the reason I am choosing to stay with my work-in-progress website design. I am reminded of the importance of being ME, with a home page photograph that fills my heart as it expresses my intention of “seeing death in a different light” beyond the words I use.

Kate had always been One Who Noticed. And because she was able to be who she was so fully, people noticed her presence. THIS is what I want. Not to “get noticed,” but to pay attention with all my heart to what matters most on my journey. And to freely share this with others.

I yearn to contribute to the world in ways that are bigger than me, and today I am remembering how important it is to be true to my purpose – my biggest purpose. To notice rather than be noticed. To appreciate rather than be appreciated.

And so I leave you with these questions: What do you “notice” thanks to someone you cared about who has died? What is in your awareness because of who they were and how they showed up in your life? How do you appreciate life more because of the time you shared with them?

With a quiet nod in a noisy world, I thank you for showing up. Remember that you matter. And that those who are meant to notice will notice.

You can leave a comment by clicking here.

FYI: I ended up choosing the “Get Noticed!” theme after all. I noticed (ha ha) that there were many more benefits to a template than struggling to design a website all by myself. I noticed my inner voice reminding me to do what I need to do to share my gifts with others, and to create ease for myself while doing it. Noticed or not, the web developers really rocked it on this one. Very grateful. So there you have it.

Jennifer Mathews, M.A., is a writer, spiritual cheerleader, and change maker. She currently calls both Bristol, Vermont and Mount Shasta, California home (when she's not traveling elsewhere, that is).

Based on her own exploration of death, grief, joy and optimism, Jen offers life-affirming perspectives and practical tools to support others on their journeys. In her personal and unconventional TEDx Talk, “Death is Inevitable – Grief is Not,” she invites us to break free from the limitations and language of a grieving process and change the way we think about and respond to the death of those we love.

Jen is a founding member and organizer of the Ashland Death Cafe and the Living/Dying Alliance of Southern Oregon. As part of the Community Outreach team of the award-winning film Death Makes Life Possible, she has facilitated conversations on death, dying, and the afterlife in the US, the UK and Ireland.

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