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With Intention

It’s hard to find reason in a week when the news is worse than most of us can imagine. Whether I’m reading my Facebook news feed or the front page of The New York Times, it’s easy to feel discouraged and hopeless. We lack confidence in our leaders and we are alarmed at the behavior of many of our fellow citizens.

In the face of all of this, my feeling of powerlessness almost embarrasses me. Long ago, when I was protesting the Vietnam War and going to the Women’s Caucus meetings on my college campus, I imagined I would have more impact on the world around me. In my youthful naiveté, I envisaged a world in which thousands of us could band together to help shape and form a better place. When that didn’t happen, I began seeing the world from a much more cynical point of view.

Monitoring my own connection with social media is a little like getting a nervous dog to go lie down and relax.

But I am noticing these days that, regardless of the craziness around me, a tiny, purposeful exchange with the checker at the supermarket can restore my sense of connection and hope. A wave from my neighbor, a retired police officer who probably never in his life imagined becoming friends with a lesbian couple, reminds me that we need to show each other the power of relationships. But even knowing that, on many days I can drive down my street with my brain completely engaged in eight other things and miss seeing that wave.

All of this is making me think again about the idea of living with more consciousness and intention. Especially as I get older, it makes so much more sense to me to proactively engage in the things that are important to me than to go through life in the daze of multitasking and digital distractions. Still, even when I know the value of the behavior, pulling it off on a daily basis is so much harder than I imagine it’s going to be. Just monitoring my own connection with social media is a little like getting a nervous dog to go lie down and relax. It may be my purpose to be intentionally less connected to my phone and more consciously present with other people, but changing the habit requires its own form of intention.

When I have a long and unexpected conversation with an old friend and we talk openly about our lives in honest, humbling terms, I walk away feeling as if I won the lottery. When I look at the expressions on the faces of my dogs when they wake up in the morning and remember how fun their lives seem to them, I think that this moment might be richer than anything I can imagine. Please know that I don’t think our silly, simple lives can really soften the grimness of mass shootings or the insanity of a narcissistic president. But I do think that if I want to be the best version of myself, if I want to make a true bond with other humans, and if I want to appreciate the details of life that I can, then my best bet is to do it with intention. I can’t wait for someone else to do it for me and I can’t hope that I might feel more like it tomorrow.

I was in my late 30s when a slightly older friend told me that she loved her 40s because she no longer cared what people thought of her. I truly wondered if this would be true for me when I got to that decade. I am no doubt too insecure to actually stop caring what people think about me, but age has definitely elevated my appreciation of the smallest details of connection. It’s also reminded me that, as bad as the world around me might feel—and as corny as it might sound—we have each other. This thought humbles me, and it prompts me to reach out. On any given day, it’s always my strongest move.

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