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On a summer of paying attention

Kate Barrett | Thursday, April 24, 2008

I will admit to you, in this last Faithpoint column of the year, that I have a bit of iPod envy. Now it’s not that I don’t own one (in fact I don’t, but my husband is generous in sharing his). My difficulty is this: I cannot get those little ear buds to stay in my ears. The proper parts of my ears must not be appropriately “bud-shaped.” When I walk across campus, then, and I see so many of you coming out of your halls just casually shoving those little guys into place with about two seconds of unconscious effort, I do feel a bit jealous. If I want to listen to a book on tape while I clean the house, I have to twist the cords around my ears in a way that my children find quite hilarious (of course, if I ever went out this way they would find it quite mortifying). And exercise? Forget it. Three steps into a run those buds would be flopping uselessly down around my shoulders – or dangerously down around my feet.

Living in this iPod-challenged way has, however, given me some important insights that I would like to pass on to you as summer approaches. So this is it. Take ’em out. Remove those alluring little silver and white circles you so easily slip into your ears without even thinking about it – or at least do think twice before popping them in.

Though you may doubt the sincerity of my motivations, I do not say this out of jealousy, but only because I have gained a few insights through my struggles with the buds. When I do manage actually to listen to an iPod successfully, I immediately pay considerably less attention to anyone else around me, or to my surroundings in general. And there’s something a little weird about greeting someone who’s listening to their iPod. Do you exchange silent nods? Stop to say hello and actually talk, which would entail a quick fumble with the click-wheel or hasty earbud removal? Should you feel offended if you rate the removal of only one bud? Prideful if your approach on the quad prompts both ears to be freed up for conversation?

If you need your iPod to get through this last week of class and the approach of finals, fine. Perhaps this particularly lovely time of the semester isn’t when you should try to change your listening habits. However, think about all you have to look forward to after these next two weeks of caffeine-fueled, sleep-deprived, stress-filled overdrive. You will be saying goodbye to great friends, perhaps some for quite a while. You will reunite with your family and friends from home; start a summer job, internship or service project; travel to new places; live with new roommates.

Let this be a summer of attentiveness. Why not aim for full awareness of the people and the environment that surrounds us?

Catholic Christians have a uniquely sacramental faith: We believe in God’s presence all around us and in everything. That means that while we know God particularly wants to find us through the seven sacraments of the Church, he also desperately hopes you’ll notice the fact that he’s right there in your friendships; in the love of your parents; in the poor you will serve through your Summer Service Projects; in that spot in your backyard you can’t wait to get home to and in that spot on campus you’ll be heartbroken to leave; in your residence hall chapel on campus and in the church you’ll go home to in a few weeks. Look for God this summer; seek out the Lord in people, the ones you know and those you’ll meet; look for him especially in your prayer; know of his presence when you hear the Scriptures proclaimed at Mass and when you receive the Eucharist.

If you tuck that iPod (and that cell phone, by the way) away in your pocket a little more frequently this summer you’ll still have many chances to listen, but your listening will change. In these next few months, become more aware of and present to your friends, to your mentors, to your employers. Don’t forget to really listen to your parents – you will be amazed by how much they’ve learned while you have been away at school.

Have a wonderful summer – and don’t forget to pay attention!

Kate Barrett is the director of Resources and Special Projects for Campus Ministry. She can be reached at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not

necessarily those of The Observer.