What Cancer Taught Us About Paying Attention

In a week of walks along the river that flows through the middle of my town, I snapped several photos – of young guitar player on large boulder; beautifully-choreographed fly fisherman’s cast; fallen tree growing its own lawn.

Deschutes River trail (Photo: Marlys Johnson)

As many times as I’ve walked this portion of the river trail—hundreds of times—it seems there’s always something new to photograph. Like this rock sculpture in the picture to the right.

The crazy thing is, we don’t always notice what we have until it’s threatened. Hubby and I were guilty of this. But in time, after cancer showed up, we learned to focus on what was left, and not what we would never ever ever have again.

Here’s what you need to know about paying attention:

  1. We’re not going to always have the people we love with us. Pay attention to them. Now. Speak words of love and affirmation to them. Today.
  2. We won’t always have the health and flexibility we might be enjoying today. Use your legs, your mind, your hands. Go places, think up great ideas, create things.
  3. The work and expertise we enjoy today will more than likely change. Companies get bought out. Technology improves. Certainly we can keep up with a changing world to an extent, but eventually it will pass us by. Which means if you have rewarding work now, you should probably appreciate it now.
  4. Our creativity won’t always come easy to us. Do you design bridges, repurpose scrap metal into art, stitch quilts, stack towers of rocks in rivers? Notice your gifts; use them to create beauty and purpose and fun. While you can.
  5. All those simple pleasures that help make up a good life — those things might not always be accessible to us. You know, things like a welcoming place called home; greeting the lighting of a new day with steaming mug of tea; cooking good food for people you love; trekking on moonlit snow; playing fetch with a dog that won’t quit; catching a good concert or show; laughter of children … (you realize this simple pleasures list actually gets quite long, right?).

This from L.R. Knost, a best-selling author:

“Life is amazing. And then it’s awful. And then it’s amazing again. And in between the amazing and the awful, it’s ordinary and mundane and routine. Breathe in the amazing, hold on through the awful, and relax and inhale during the ordinary.”

I’ve breathed in the amazing. I’ve endured through the devastating. As for those days in between — those ordinary ones — there really are no ordinary days. Only extravagant, extraordinary gifts of days.

May we sit up and pay attention to them. May we live them expansively, generously, gratefully.

 What about you? What do you need to pay attention to this week? What words of appreciation or affirmation do you need to speak today?


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