Pay Attention

When I was shooting a lot of travel assignments, I noticed a predictable—if mildly uncomfortable—process unfold. As I drove to the location, whether it was an autumn fly-fishing stream in Spearfish Canyon, South Dakota, or a grain truck sunset tour of the Kansas wheat fields, I worried. It was hard to see the potential in the shoot.

I could feel the anxiety well up. The light was no good. Power lines traced the length of the trout stream. Billboards marred the edges of the wheat fields. As I approached the scene at 70 mph, it was hard to see the beauty of the place. With nothing yet in the can, it all felt big and overwhelming.

But something interesting happened as I slowed down and stepped out of the truck. As I moved into the landscape at a slower pace, little vignettes started to reveal themselves. Small details that were invisible in a speeding vehicle started to come into focus and one by one the shots would take shape, adding small layers to the story we would eventually tell.

One of the benefits of age is that I’ve been able to witness that process unfold over and over again. So, the anxiety still wells up. But when it does, I can now remind myself that I’ve been through this process before. With patience and time, the path will reveal itself. So the anxiety is still there, but I can move through it, knowing things will be okay, because they have been before.

That’s where I’m at with our new series, Cry Out. At the moment we’ve got nothing but a big, blank canvas in front of us. I know it will get filled with amazing stories and rich images, beauty and wisdom. But the wheels aren’t turning yet. I’m anxious to get into the work, but there are some puzzle pieces that need to fall in place before we begin so I am telling myself to be patient.

The house is sold. A new truck is in the driveway and we’ve got our heads down doing the hard work of packing up and prepping for the road. Our self-imposed deadline of October 3 is racing up on us and the to-do list is still pretty long.

In the midst of it, we are saying goodbye to friends. Even though we know we will be back this way, we are not certain when, so we are trying to be intentional about connecting before we hit the road. This morning I walked around a small local lake with my friend, a pastor from years gone by. It’s a tradition Rick and I have stuck to for a couple decades now and by the time we’ve walked a lap or two, we have caught up, laughed a little and seen the world through a slightly different lens.

This morning we talked about the winding path of the creative process, of listening to the quiet voice inside, of making bold changes in life and of paying attention.

That last one hit me hard today. Paying attention.

As I walked out of the coffee shop on my way to meet Rick, I checked my phone. Time was tight and I was feeling rushed (I know, I know…maybe I should have skipped the coffee.) But then a flock of geese flew overhead. Their soft honking drew my attention and when I looked up, I noticed the rising sun grazing the feathers on the underside of their bellies. When I stopped walking and stood still, I could hear the swish of their wings moving through the morning air. Suddenly the rush of the day was replaced by the slow ritual migration of generations.

Driving down the road a few minutes later, the sun pushed a few brilliant rays through the mist that hovered over the marsh. And on our walk around the lake, we both stopped to notice the still water reflecting fall colors, just long enough to take a few photos.

“It’s the only prayer I really say these days,” Rick said.

I’m paraphrasing.

“I just want to pay attention. Listen. And let that guide me.”

It’s a good lesson as we get ready to hit the road. I want to plan well for this new journey. But I also want to leave room to respond as we are called. Some of the best stories we gathered for American Stories were unexpected. Sometimes the winding path leads us to the most interesting destinations and often serendipity has better plans than we can craft on our own.

As we get ready to go, I just want to pay attention. I want to listen. And that simple process will guide our path.

2 comments

  1. Heidi Currier

    I love reading your blog. The slowing down, noticing what’s going on around you, especially in nature; the acceptance that everything changes and ends (your anxious feelings arise and fall)-these are all things that I can relate to in my own experience.
    Now I’m going to put something out there that is scary for me, but I’m going to risk it. In talking with friends and especially in conversations with myself about racism, I have thought about the people who are called white supremacists, who hold those beliefs. Where do they come from? What feeds/supports those beliefs? I wonder if it would be instructive, or even acceptable, to hear some of those stories. The danger I guess would be giving voice to an idea that is reprehensible. Maybe talking with someone who was once of that persuasion and changed their mind would need better. I think you mentioned someone you planned to interview who had meet and talked with white supremacists. Maybe that’s what got me thinking about it!!
    You’re staying on an amazing journey and bringing a lot of people along with you-safe travels🙏
    Heidi

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Heidi. I think about how to engage with that conversation about white supremacy as well. One of the interesting challenges is that we draw a line between good and bad…us and them…and the white supremacists are seen as deviants and monsters who have nothing to do with us. We do that with a lot of things. But I think the nuanced reality is that it is all a continuum. We are all a mix of good and bad. White supremacy isn’t just that thing that resides in monsters. We are all a part of a structure of white supremacy that permeates our history and society. And I have a little of it in me, though I hope not as much as someone who is seen as a white supremacist in the traditional sense.

      And so on the one hand, it would be an interesting conversation to try to unravel some of that thread. And on the other hand…you’re right…I don’t want to give that voice a platform. Someone once said, “If you’re trying to plant a garden, you don’t intentionally sow weeds.” I am working with this and thinking about the right way to do it.

      I do have a friend / colleague who used to be a white supremacist and now works toward reconciliation and healing. I interviewed him for my podcast How Life Changed and he shares some interesting insights that I think we all could learn from. You can listen at this link.
      https://www.buzzsprout.com/959767/3328306-episode-18-arno-michaelis.mp3?blob_id=11999884&download=true

      Thanks for following along. I’m grateful for your encouragement and support.

      John

      Like

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