Attention Is Nice

You wouldn’t know it by looking at me but I was quite the athlete in 5th grade. I played running back for the Eli Whitney Panthers and it was clear that I was going to be drafted to play middle school football any day. I remember well the highlight reel they showed the night we all got our trophies although it had a little too much of the coach's son in it for my taste it also featured my single reception for the season. I relished in the glory of that moment.

One of the reasons I liked football so much was that you got to slam into people without getting hurt or in trouble and I really liked slamming into people. I remember vividly feeling like a big deal because I could take a hit unlike my friend Jacob who had quit after the first full contact practice. I remember that day well because of how everyone gathered around him and coddled him when he went down in a puddle of painsey tears. In my 10 year old brain I remember thinking of how people always applauded when an injured player got up and walked off the field and how no one applauded when a player cried and then quit playing altogether. I decided in that moment that getting hurt and coming back onto the field was a glorious thing and so one night, under the bright lights of the Eli Whitney ball field, I decided to seize my glory.

I stood anxiously behind my fearless leader and quarterback in the i-formation trying to look like I wasn’t going to get the ball. Foot shaking, heavy breathing, and mind focused, I awaited the snap. “Down, set, HIKE!” Like an olympic runner I came off my mark. In a blur I make my way to the quarterback and received the precious package destined to evade all pursuers as I made my way toward the goal. I broke through the first line like a bullet through a paper target and then suddenly I was met by what felt like a steel door with two large numbers on it that I can no longer recall. Like Wile e Coyote meeting an anvil I was stopped in my tracks and dropped to the ground to see the stars in the sky mix with the ones my daze created.

As I lie on my back writhing in pain I realized that this was my chance.  It wasn’t how I planned it but the glory was mine for the taking. The crowd silently awaited my courageous respawn as the coaches ran out to me. As they approached my lifeless body I scurried to come up with an answer to the inevitable question. “What’s wrong Scot?” my coach asked. Without hesitation or much thought I whimpered out the first thing that came to mind, “My neck.”

Turns out a neck injury is kind of a big deal. They don’t let you just you limp off the field as the people stand and applaud. Also, if your parents aren’t present you don’t get to go home in your own car, you get put on a stretcher with a neck brace on and carried straight to the hospital in an ambulance. It was too late to turn back though so I committed to the lie. I made my way to the ER where my parents met up with me.

After a few x-rays and a lot of time in the hospital room the doctor came in with my diagnosis. It was a huge relief to my parents and no surprise to me (although I did try to act surprised) that nothing was wrong with me. I was so disappointed. No one would applaud, no one would worry about me, and no one would find me courageous when I fought through rehab and rose again. Little did I know that a rumor had begun at school that I had suffered a major injury and as I rode home in the back of my dad’s cadillac listening to the skwak of his CB radio the Eli Whitney Panther’s cheerleaders were fast at work making me cards and posters and cookies. I returned to school on Monday morning to the celebration that my 10 year old heart wanted bad enough to fake an injury. I was even met with a kiss from head cheerleader Stephanie. I had achieved my goal. The world had seen me triumph.

Kids by their very nature are attention seekers. We want to know that we are seen, valued, and understood. We want to see if our place in the world matters or not. But this desperate cry for being noticed is not very becoming on adults. My desire to be noticed lasted well into adulthood which made for some pretty embarrassing moments. I’ve come to attribute a lot of those tendencies to the neglect I experienced as a child but there comes a point when we have to grow up and begin getting over the childish things we do.

For me that happened through seeking genuine relationships. I’ve learned that it isn’t about having the eyes of the masses on me but rather the hands of the few that mattered most to me in my hand. I write a blog and speak and play music on stages and I love doing those things, but I’m coming to realize that those things don’t energize me. I get fueled the most by sitting across the table from a friend and talking about real things. I’ve learned that the affirmation that comes from attention is much more fulfilling when I seek out quality rather than quantity.

We all want to be noticed. We all want to know that our place in this world is significant. We want to believe that the sky would be a little darker without us in the lives of those around us but we don’t gain that by doing the song and dance or by being the little boy who cries wolf, we get it by knowing others and being known. We need intimacy. We need love. We need to give ourselves to one another authentically. Attention is nice, but love is better.

 

Every person has a story and I'd be honored to tell it! If you would like to be a part of this #TrueStories series I would love to set up an interview with you to hear your stories. You can email me at stories@scotluman.org and let me know you’re interested.