On Home Improvement — a great show — Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor hasn’t remembered an event that his wife Jill reminded him about.
“Well, you can’t remember everything,” he retorts. “Like, what kind of carburetor is on the hot rod?”
“A Holley four barrel 4891,” Jill answers.
“Huuuuuuh?” grunts the Tool Man. “How did you know that?”
“It’s easy,” says Jill. “When someone I love talks about something that is important to them, I pay attention.”
“Ooooooooooooh,” Tim replies, chastened and more aware now.
Ms Rachelle says that giving attention is easy, but sometimes we just let it slip.
I suggest that giving attention is hard, because to really be engaged we must be aware, and to be aware is to be challenged. Anything that pulls us out of own world to see through the eyes of another is potentially transformative, requiring us to see past our own assumptions and fears and affirm choices we would never make for ourselves. Celebrity Rehab reminds us of that power of the group; their narratives bring up stuff for us in many ways, requiring us to engage and confront what we have chosen to be blind to.
When I talk to TBB, it is the connections I make that remind her that I pay attention to her. There is an old saw that a friend is someone who knows the song in our heart and sings it back to us when we forget the words. I tend to remind her of the forest when she is just seeing trees, connecting something she is saying now to what she has said in the past, acting to reinforce the context of her life. I take the things she often can only say in an oblique way and illuminate them in a way that supports and empowers her, as she has supported and empowered so many.
I have found that there are few more powerful tools than reminding people of their own words and deeds, their own claims and intent, their own dreams and desires. But to do that, I have to keep them in my head & heart somewhere, following as they change, paying attention as they share.
On Home Improvement, Jill Taylor understood that, because JIll is a mother, and being a good mother requires you to pay attention to your kids in a very present way. They don’t have the insight and the language to make connections, to see and express the bigger picture, so you have to help them with that, help them learn and grow. Now, you can argue that women have to do that with men too, after learning to do it with their friends, but that’s another game.
I saw a button in the store last night that said “Moms Rock.” True, but I would have bought a button that said “Moms Love.”
I was surprised at how many paid attention to my piece on Priority. Gwyneth is correct; she has acknowledged my deep femme need to be heard and affirmed, and I thank her for it. Ms. Rachelle has often given me the gift of being present for me, even across oceans. Abby offered her ear and her heart. Grace shared her experience, mirroring and reinforcing my own feelings in a potent way.
I know that I have touched them, and in knowing that, I also know that I have changed them, if only in the tiniest, tiniest way. I have said that the most painful thing about being trans is to not be able to share your gifts and have them accepted, because so many people need to reject who I know myself to be to stay in their comfort zone, but people who are willing to be discomfited by being open to me, well, that touches my tender heart.
We show attention when we hold open the space for others to be authentically themselves, entering their world in a way that keeps the focus on them and makes it easy for them to express their depth without always having to protect and insulate themselves from the world. We show attention when we remember and connect, easing communication with informed context rather than choking it with expectations that everything is about us. We show attention when we engage and embrace challenge, knowing that our emotions are about us, that we hold responsibility for our own feelings, expectations, prejudices and fears.
Sweet people have offered me attention, and I thank them. But we are spread so thinly on the ground that our presence so often seems sparse and empty.
As for me though, I take what I can get, and keep speaking into that dark night.