Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Paying Attention

Flowers, because I couldn't find the right picture.
I spent yesterday looking for a picture I know exists. It shows a beautiful blonde woman wearing a blue jumper with a red neckerchief. She has her arm around a bespectacled blonde boy who's 11 or so and is wearing blue slacks and a red neckerchief just like hers. She is beaming, he looks slightly nervous and more-than-slightly nerdy.

Of all the adults who had an impact on my first-born, she was one of the most important. Last Saturday, having driven seven hours deep into the night before, he sat with Husband and me at her funeral. Mary Lou was his youth choir director during that fraught stage when he was leaving childhood and entering his teenage years. This is not an easy time for anyone, but it is especially difficult for a kid who is smart and sensitive and non-athletic; these years are filled with sharp things waiting to be stepped on.

"I'm pretty sure I was convinced Mary Lou got up every morning thinking 'Now what can I do to make Boy#1's life better today?'," he told us. "I was a terrible singer. Looking back, I know that, but I never knew it by the way she acted."

Instead, Mary Lou acted as if she were the luckiest woman in the world to know him--and he believed her. I know this feeling, because that's exactly how she made me feel, too. She was the kindest, most energetic, most creative, most sympathetic non-relative I knew, and the person she was fixing with those bright eyes always was the most important person she had ever hugged.

Of all the things I learned from Mary Lou (and there were many, including how to unobtrusively reapply lipstick between the banquet and the speeches) this was the most striking: The person with whom I am talking deserves my whole attention.

When Mary Lou listened, she listened with her whole body. It was important to me, but it was life-changing for Boy#1. Because she listened to him, he listened to her. He pointed to a picture of the youth choir displayed at the funeral. "Notice that every single boy has his hands down at his side? To this day I don't put my hands in my pockets at any important occasion."

I wish I could find that picture of One and Mary Lou. She looked so confident and invested, like he was the most important person in her life.

And certainly, for that formative stage of his life, she quite possibly was the most important person in his.


  1. I have so many fond memories of her from that choir; in fact, I quoted her when my own daughter was about to recite a reading in front of a crowd months ago: "I don't care if your nose is about to itch itself off your face, YOU DO NOT SCRATCH IT." I still can't hear someone singing even slightly flat (including myself) without lifting my eyebrows as high as they'll go. She will be sorely missed, but what a legacy to leave behind.

    1. I wish you could have been at the funeral. It was glorious.