When a cat stares at you, you are compelled to comply, there is simply no other option. Yesterday, as I was sitting down at my ancient eMachine computer (the equivalent of a writer’s creaky old Smith-Corona), our little cat Misha informed me that it was time for the Rubby Ritual. This is a religious ceremony in which either I or my wife are required to sit on the floor while she walks around us, rubbing against various objects (the corner of a couch, a door frame). Once during each circumnavigation she will draw near, at which point we are to hold out a hand, which she will then rub against, demonstrating that, like each of the other sacred objects, we belong to her. The procedure requires absolute rapt attention. Yesterday, I made the mistake of looking away—twice. Each time, Misha stopped, reached out with half-exposed catnails, and gave me a firm-but-gentle clawing.
Attention must be paid.
It’s the same with humans. We need attention, and we each have our rubby rituals. Dr. Gary Chapman famously broke these into 5 Love Languages. The central idea being that, if you want to tell someone you love them, you need to tell them in their language, which is, more often than not, different from yours.
My wife Trudy and I love each other very much. But we speak completely different love languages. Recently, I began to feel ignored. I wasn’t feelin’ the love in my language (Physical Touch and Words of Affirmation). After brooding about this for days (because, yeah, that’s useful), I brought it up. After a moment, she informed me that she hadn’t been feelin’ the love in her language either (Quality Time and Acts of Service).
To quote a wise little alien, “Ouch.”
One of the main things Jesus taught us is that the key to getting something you want—not the piddly stuff, but the big stuff like Forgiveness, Kindness and, yes, Attention—is to give it, and to give it first. There’s a Catch 22, though: Sometimes others won’t respond immediately, or even at all. What then? Keep doing it anyway.
Because it’s not a transaction. It’s a transformation. When you give the things you want—which were planted in your heart for this very reason—you start to become the person you’re supposed to be. Most people will respond in kind, but sometimes they won’t. It won’t matter. Because something much more valuable than merely getting what you want will have occurred (Luke 6:35-38).
I tried to capture this idea in the chorus of a song (used in the soundtrack of my film Over-the-Rhine). It came out in these words:
There’s a paradox to living
Because the way to get is just by giving
And the way to live is just by dying
And the way to find love is to stop trying
And just love
Easy to sing. Hard to do. So, if you’ll pardon me, I have to get back to my language lessons. It’ll probably take the rest of my life, but I’m hoping to become fluent in Trudy. Oh, yeah, and Misha’s giving me that look again.
Attention must be paid.