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#412: Look Closely, Or You’ll Miss It
Four great articles on the practice of noticing
Welcome, new subscribers, and welcome back, loyal readers! I’m happy you’re here.
I’ve been told before that I’m a pretty good listener and that I can read people well. Those qualities have helped me in my roles as a teacher and supporter of teachers. But when it comes to noticing the physical environment, I’ve always been at a loss. That “new tree” I recently spotted in the neighborhood? It’s always been there. The name of the bird you saw down by the water’s edge? I couldn’t tell you it was an egret, because I didn’t notice it.
This week’s selections are all about noticing. As is typical for this newsletter, the articles range a variety of topics — from birdwatching to noticing when someone is overdosing on fentanyl, from listening to a kid who has lost a loved one, to being present with yourself when you’ve lost yours. This week’s pieces helped me pause and got me out of my head a little bit. I hope they’re helpful to you, too.
➡️ In your life right now, what are you noticing?
What’s the connection between the Great Migration and the migration of birds? Poet Natalie Rose Richardson explores that question with the help of an ornithologist, an historian, and a journey to the Middleton Plantation in South Carolina. “Until last summer I rarely considered birdwatching at all,” Ms. Richardson writes, calling herself a “city person” who lived near Chicago’s “L” train and who rarely sought out nature. She tries birdwatching one day, in Millennium Park, and finds herself unable to focus. But after researching her family’s migration from Louisiana to Arkansas to Indiana to Illinois, Ms. Richardson begins to connect the dots. She reads an essay by Leslie Jamison about the act of looking. Love, she reads, is focused attention. To love her family, Ms. Richardson reflects, is to center her attention on them, from their origin to their destination, as birdwatching "is “the act of centering the bird in one’s attention.”
By Natalie Rose Richardson • Emergence Magazine • 21 mins
Kimber King came close to dying after she overdosed on fentanyl the day after she got out of rehab. She survived because she called Never Use Alone, a hotline and nonprofit that focuses on ending accidental overdose mortality. Its motto is, “No stigma. No judgment. Just love.” This well-written article profiles volunteer Jessica Blanchard, who answered the phone and quickly noticed Kimber was in danger. Her training as a nurse certainly helped, of course. But so did Ms. Blanchard’s intuition and personal experience; her daughter has overdosed 11 times. “When you call,” she said, “my hope is that you’re speaking in print. Nice print, second-grade letters. You’re gonna use, you may move to cursive, you may move to calligraphy. I try to keep you out of the hieroglyphics. I can’t understand that,” she said. The paramedics made it just in time. Kimber calls Ms. Blanchard mama now.
At Camp Erin outside Ontario, you’ll see kids participating in typical summer camp activities: singing songs, climbing the high ropes, jumping in the lake, and roasting s’mores around the campfire. But you’ll also see them talking about their feelings, engaging in sessions to process their grief. At Camp Erin, every camper has experienced the death of a loved one. Trained volunteers and psychotherapists understand that especially for children, grief isn’t always a vast, debilitating ocean. It’s sometimes more like a puddle — something you can jump in and out of. Kids can be devastated one moment, joyful the next. One key tenet is to keep the conversation going. Ultimately, the goal is to meet the kids where they are, to notice.
By Mitchell Consky • The Walrus • 15 mins
➡️ If you’re interested in learning more about the work of bereavement camps, I recommend you take a look at Camp Kita, open to children who are survivors of a loved one’s suicide. My friend (and loyal reader) Steven serves on the board.
This is a beautiful piece that you might not want to read because it’s about death. But if you’re in the mood, you’ll be rewarded. Here are Sally Mann’s words:
My father knocked on my door at 6:00 a.m. the next morning to tell me she’d stopped breathing. I went downstairs in my pajamas. The hospital bed was in the living room, near windows that opened out into the backyard. Mom’s head was cocked to the side, her mouth slightly open, eyes closed. The part of her chest above the white V-neck T-shirt she was wearing had a yellow ochre tinge and was, for the first time in sixty-three years, not rising or falling. I touched it. It was still warm.
The others — my sister, my brother, his partner, my husband, and our 16-month-old son — emerged from their respective corners of the house, hugged, cried, laughed, touched Mom’s body, poured cereal. I called the hospice team. By the time the nurse arrived, a cool early-April light had begun to shine into the living room. The nurse herself was a peachy pink, both in color and in demeanor. She pronounced Mom dead at 7:25 a.m. She wished us well and told us to call the mortuary to come collect the body when we were ready to part with it, “no rush.” I appreciated her saying that: It was a rather cozy body to have in the house, even if Mom was no longer in it.
By Sally Mann • Hippocampus • 13 mins
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