Learning to Pay Attention

Learning to Pay Attention

By Phyllis Rausch


kids illustrationMy new renter, Sam, turned up on the first day of October, my favorite month. It’s not just because I’m a Scorpio, but who could forget those incredibly beautiful Ohio autumns? Each year, surrounded by the blazing colors of the elms, maples, and chestnuts, I would recall the the poet St. Vincent Millay’s words. “Lord I fear you’ve made the world too beautiful this year”

Sam paid his first month’s rent, liked the apartment, the peace, the gardens. He seemed a positive fellow, though over talkative and bit strange. Some of my favorite folks have been a little off center, so I concentrated on our mutual love of nature and animals, and intended to overlook the rest.

On the morning of October 28th, rather than awakening to Mexico’s birthday song, Las Mañanitas, my eyes flew open at 7 to the unexpected din of pounding feet, right outside the wall behind my head.

Jumping up, I threw on a robe and opened the back door.  At the far end of the driveway stood Don Pedro and young Juan, both leaning on their brooms and staring, goggle-eyed up at the house. I walked down to join them, then turned to look back in the same direction.

Here came Sam, running barefoot over the bumpy cobblestones, head thrown back, eyes closed and totally naked. I hadn’t seen a naked man in a while, and I’d have preferred a different specimen. He lumbered past us, jumped into the fairly frigid pool, popped out again and continued his run. Obviously Sam was considerably stranger than I had thought. Thank goodness he was my only guest on that day.

The following hours made up my longest birthday ever. Instead of cake and presents I was celebrated and entertained by the arrival of the village police, Civil Protection officials and para-medics in ambulances. None of us seemed quite certain where Sam belonged – not in jail certainly, though he had disturbed my peace, but perhaps a hospital, or some institution? Everyone couldn’t have been nicer, but many hours later, as they all departed, Sam was still there, seated in the bathtub. It would soon be dark.

I told him, though the closed door, that I couldn’t allow him to spend another night on my property, so he put on a pair of shorts, a tank top, mounted his small bike and peddled off.

Sam’s left behind belongings were minimal. A few pieces of clothing, his passport, pages with simple, childish drawings, a few pesos. Quickly I packed them up, passing them on to Sam’s lawyer who stopped by a few days later.

But what was I to do with Sam’s largest possession: that enormous, extra-thick, orthopedic mattress? He had insisted on placing it on top of the regular bed, but never returned to pick it up. Months later the mattress was still in my bodega.  I asked Mari, my go-to person, what she thought we should do with it.

Fifteen year old Juan helps me mornings before school. Mari now told me that his parents have never owned a mattress. Throughout their marriage, including the births of three children, they have slept on a wooden base covered with a blanket.

As so many times before, Mari had offered the perfect solution. The mattress traveled down the mountain and was installed on Juan’s parents’ bed.

The following Monday Mari took me aside. “Sunday was the soccer game,”  she said. “Juan’s father never misses a game, but he didn’t go yesterday. Some people wondered why, but then his wife Conchita stopped me on the street this morning.”

“My husband didn’t go to the Sunday soccer game. He was so happy just resting on the mattress. He stayed there most of the day.”

Yesterday my daily meditation included this centering thought,  “I trust that my life fits a larger plan.”  I was not convinced. My life seems one of the least planned ever. Hasn’t my path been paved by happy coincidences, or by my husband’s unexpected 3 am pronouncements?  

When I woke up this morning, though, I understood. I realized that in order to see my life’s larger plan, I must first begin to pay attention.

A sorry fellow named Sam, his orphaned mattress, Mari’s awareness of her neighbors’ needs, a weary hard-working dad relishing a good orthopedic mattress on a Sunday afternoon.  

And I? Well, I was threaded and stitched throughout this human patchwork crazy quilt. So, in the future, how can I refuse to believe that my life does fit a larger plan?


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