I left a message for my mother today on her answering machine. Yes, her old-fashioned answering machine. No text message, no email. My mother has never owned a cell phone and refuses to do so. You will also not find a laptop, desktop, tablet, or noise-canceling headphones at her house. Cable and internet? Nope. None of it.
Now, the life of my 75-year-old mother may not be that practical for you. I understand that. My life, like yours, is filled with a host of electronic wizardry. However, in spite of her apparent disconnect, my mother is active, well-read, and engaged with friends and neighbors. And I believe she can teach us all something about our always-on world. Especially after two years in which the boundaries between work, home, school, our public lives, and our private lives largely dissolved.
Mama gives me the best present every single year. She gives me the gift of her undivided attention. The minute my feet step onto the peach carpet in her living room, she is focused on me. Just me. And that’s an incredible feeling. I have her complete and absolute attention. No distractions. No interruptions. She shares with me her current exercise routine at the YMCA (she left the Silver Sneakers because they were too slow). We discuss the latest book we read together, and then we often work together on a project. Sometimes, there is silence on our car rides to the local thrift store (she doesn’t listen to the radio). I can only describe it as peaceful. Thoughtful. Intentional. It is a rare and precious gift in our hyper-connected world.
Undivided attention means no distractions. I know it’s a challenge, but it can be done. It means we’ll have to ruthlessly eliminate the notifications, the to-do lists, and the right-nows from our day...if only for a few minutes. But our undivided attention is an incredibly precious gift for our co-workers, for our friends, for our families, and for ourselves. It’s a gift well worth the effort.