By Kristen Hartman | December 21, 2020
My dad drew great maps. Sure, he was an artist but, the quality of his drawings aside, his maps were great because of the detail.
All the necessary and helpful streets were labeled and important visual landmarks were sketched in too. He could have added much more detail because he knew all the street names and all the landmarks, but that would have surpassed the point of usefulness. Hitting the sweet spot of helpful-at-a-glance information—without offering too little or overwhelming with too much—is a gift.
The reason my dad drew such great maps is because my dad was a noticer. He was the consummate observer. He never drove to work or church or Costco without paying attention. His eyes constantly roamed and noticed what building had been painted or changed ownership, what new tree had been planted, or what street had been restriped. And he varied his routes. He mixed in every combination of side streets to keep them fresh in his mind’s eye.
My dad noticed because my dad was looking.
We don’t see what we aren’t looking for. Noticing is a choice. Paying attention takes effort.
Those are lessons I keep learning. I’m still a novice observer of the streets I drive . . . and of my everyday life.
This year didn’t look at all how I imagined it would. But, in some ways, it looked better—not because the circumstances were great, but because a friend asked me to pay attention, and that changed what I saw.
A few days into our March safer-at-home order (or whatever we called it back then), she asked if I’d keep a journal—a daily log—of stories I heard and experienced. Now, I’m an adamant non-journaler. I have spent years qualifying the writing I do as explicitly “not journaling,” but I thought she was asking for a few weeks of paying attention, and that would be like the travel journals I keep on big trips, right? That was doable and still not real journaling.
Of course, we all know what happened. It’s been nine-and-a-half months and I’m still working from home. The pandemic isn’t over or under control or, or, or. And . . . I’m still journaling . . . every day. I’m still paying attention to my life in a way I never had before, and it’s been remarkable.
In more than 280 days of actively paying attention, I’ve seen enough to begin sketching a different map. The streets and the landmarks are the same—family, friends, neighbors, small groups, Bible study, worship services, work, birthday parties, graduations, walks, coffee and ice cream dates, meetings, bird watching—but they look different. Some of the buildings have been painted, some potholes have been filled in (and some have appeared), a few detours have temporarily rerouted the standard routines for a longer time than expected, the speed limit has definitely been reduced, new landscaping has been done, there are far more pedestrians.
Those changes would have occurred even if I hadn’t been looking for them, but I wouldn’t have noticed them. And I certainly wouldn’t have appreciated or learned from them.
This year brought some hard goodbyes, some missed togetherness, a lot of frustration, abnormalities layered over abnormalities and so much good it takes my breath away. I know because I wrote it down. I have tens of thousands of words reminding me that . . .
I love worshiping on top of a parking structure,
books can be read together whether there’s a pandemic or not,
hugs are immeasurable gifts,
I’ve always known less than I thought I did,
I was never in control in the first place,
the streetsweeper comes at the same time every week but the trash trucks do not,
lamenting is necessary,
giving thanks is vital,
I can lament and give thanks for the same thing,
as introverted as I may be I am still a people person,
church is a family and this church is my family,
I love Costa Rican coffee,
I miss my dad every single day,
the Bible is God’s story, not mine, and . . .
“This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”