Snails and Attention

Something was missing. I didn’t know exactly what it was, but it was poignant, deafening, paralyzing.

Or maybe I didn’t even realize that something was amiss.

I was staring at the concrete sidewalk. I looked up to see the traffic light changing. I’d lost myself again. I silently, gently chastized myself. Who stares at a sidewalk? Get it together, man.

Target was crowded. I didn’t like crowds, and so I moved through the store like a ghost: in and out, no one taking notice, and I taking note of nothing. New pencils. Paper towels. An iron to replace the one that left burn marks. A birthday card.

And, suddenly, back home. I poured a bowl of shredded wheat and ate while I flipped through channels on the television. Somewhere in the Middle East (I forget which country), a bombing. Here at home, another political scandal. A bus driver in Ohio had spanked a child, and was fired.

I threw the bowl in the sink and sat down to write. Deadlines to meet- so many deadlines. Soon, three articles were finished.

“Daddy?”

I looked up to see my daughter standing in the doorway. I checked my phone. Jesus, how was it 3:30 already?

“Daddy, I need help with math.”

I told her to give me ten minutes. I would be up soon. Then I set a alarm on my phone so I wouldn’t be late, and answered a few emails.

The alarm sounded. I stuck the phone in my pocket and went upstairs. My daughter was nowhere to be found. I checked the bathroom, then her bedroom, then the kitchen again, then the living room. I peeked through a window and saw my daughter laying on her stomach on the grass in the backyard. I sighed and walked out to her.

“Whatcha doin’?”

“Nothin’.”

I layed down beside her. I was wearing cargo shorts, and the grass felt warm, almost ticklish, on my knees. I fidgeted for a minute before I was able to get comfortable. My daughter didn’t move, still as a tree. I noticed that she was watching something, and I followed her gaze to a snail navigating the maze of grass.

I turned back to my daughter and asked her what was so fascinating.

“Ssshhh.”

I crossed my hands in front of me, laying my head on them, and watched the snail with her. I fidgeted some more. I should be doing something; this is nothing, and nothing is getting done. I felt anxious. The snail had moved half an inch in a span of five minutes. Ten, maybe.

Then I saw the sun glistening on the snail’s shell, and my eye was drawn to the elegant swirl that decorated the shell. It was significant, somehow, and looked as if it had been hand-painted.

I watched for a few more minutes. The grass was tall, and it must’ve seemed like a lush forest to the snail. I wondered about the snail- if it felt anything, if it thought anything, if it had a family. Surely not- do snails have families? An odd question, but it seemed more odd that I didn’t know the answer.

I felt a breeze on the back of my neck. It had probably been blowing for awhile, but this was the first I noticed of it. I turned my head to my daughter, who was smiling, still looking at the snail. We layed in silence for a few more minutes.

I realized that it wasn’t just the snail- there were ants marching by in single-file, and dandelions swaying a bit in the breeze.

It was an entire world.

“How come I never noticed all this stuff before?” I asked.

My daughter tilted her head to look at me.

“I guess you just never paid attention.”


I’ve been driving my daughter to school for the past few mornings. For days, after she’d safely exited the car, I’d turn off Cher Lloyd and turn on something with some energy: Metallica, usually. I wanted the music’s energy to invade me on the way home, so that I could use it to get to work.

This morning, I changed tact. I listened to Of Monsters and Men (who I recently discovered), which has, to say the least, a decidedly different musical mission. They’re slow and melodic, the lyrics poetic, almost magical. I gave into the music, and the drive home became rather calming.

When I got home, I pulled into the garage, still in a bit of a trance from the music. I opened the car door, and was immediately greeted with the sounds of birds singing.

That’s not an altogether startling revelation, until I realized that I hadn’t noticed them for weeks prior. It was the music that tuned my ears to the sounds of the birds chirping, my eyes to the sun peeking through the clouds, my skin to the roll of my ankle as I took each step.

The mood carried over. Once I went inside and sat down to work, it all flowed like the proverbial river.

All I had to do was pay attention.