• 70°

My turn, Larry Efird: Paying attention is only the first step

By Larry Efird

A month or so ago, a good friend gave me a book written by a person I highly respect.

It was a memoir written by Dr. Leighton Ford, brother-in-law of Billy Graham. I still remember Leighton Ford coming to my hometown for a series of meetings when I was in the seventh grade.  I also remember him doing a short devotional on the local news every night that lasted only about 30 seconds but always contained a positive nugget of truth to live by.   

As I read his book, I encountered some life-changing quotes written by some authors of whom I had never heard. Being in the “word business” as a teacher, I’m always looking for quotes and bits of sound advice to share with my students. One such quote made me stop reading and start thinking. Many of my students can read well, but they don’t stop to think about what they’re reading. That’s when I tell them reading is far more than exercising their eyes.

Mary Oliver, an American poet and essayist who died this past year, penned these simple words regarding three basic rules for living one’s life: “Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.”

The first bit of advice is something all teachers have uttered thousands of times: “Pay attention.”

But paying attention is really just the beginning. Paying attention to our lives can effectively open up the door to being astonished. When I go to a high school football game, I pay attention because I’m interested in what’s happening on the field. I’m also amazed and astonished by some of the miraculous plays my kids make during the game. I’m also astonished by the creativity and athletic ability of the cheerleaders and the unhindered school spirit displayed by the band.

Being astonished makes me want to tell someone about it, so I might text my wife about a kid who plays with his whole heart every week and who scores his first touchdown of the season in his final game as a senior. I also text her the score, whether we’re winning or not. She cares because she knows how much I do.

But unfortunately, as I am paying attention to the kids on the field, I’m also astonished, and sometimes not in a good way, by the behavior of a few adults who yell toxic comments at coaches and officials.

I’d rather those individuals keep those comments to themselves, but since they are yelling so loudly, I can’t help but pay attention to their caustic invectives.

That’s when I have a choice to make. Do I sit and ignore what’s being said around me in the presence of others who are attending the game to support the team, or do I confront the perpetrators who are obviously not pleased with the scoreboard and who in a misguided way think that voicing public criticism is showing how much they care?

After watching someone yell at the cheerleaders to “get out of the way” when they are performing a dangerous stunt because they can’t see as well as they’d like or another telling band members to sit down as they stand and cheer, I shake my head. I wonder, “Who is the game about, anyway? The kids, or the spectators?” I also wonder why a grown man — or two or three — could insult coaches when they are aware of a coach’s wife and child sitting two or three rows in front of them.

Yes, I paid attention. I was astonished. And now I’m telling about it because I think there are too many adults who don’t understand something basic which even most teenagers do. Shouting unbridled, rude remarks at someone doesn’t do much good. It actually has the opposite effect.

One of the very best parts of teaching in my experience has been going to sporting events and watching my students compete and perform. The enthusiasm of youth keeps the world going, I’m convinced, to drown out the cynicism of those who don’t like what they see “on the scoreboard,” whether it’s in current events or at sporting events.

I’m thankful for people such as Leighton Ford, who cared about a little seventh- grade boy’s life and got my attention. I’m also thankful for writers who help us to see that paying attention is only the first step.    

Larry Efird teaches English at A.L. Brown High School in Kannapolis

Comments

Education

RSS budgeting for tens of millions in federal COVID-19 relief funding

East Spencer

‘Back in full swing’ for the spring: East Spencer community gathers for food, fun and fellowship at Spring Fest

Local

Rowan native Lingle among those honored with NC Military Veterans Hall of Fame induction

Business

Former pro baseball player, Tar Heel standout Russ Adams finds new career with Trident Insured

Education

Profoundly gifted: Salisbury boy finishing high school, associates degree at 12

Local

Cheerwine Festival will stick to Main Street, stay away from new park in September

Lifestyle

Celebrating Rowan County’s early cabinetmakers

Education

Service Above Self announces youth challenge winners

Business

Economic Development Commission creates search tool for people seeking Rowan County jobs

Columns

Amy-Lynn Albertson: Arts and Ag Farm Tour set for June 5

High School

High school baseball: Mustangs top Falcons on strength of hurlers

Business

Biz Roundup: Application process now open for Rowan Chamber’s 29th Leadership Rowan class

Sports

Keith Mitchell leads McIlroy, Woodland by 2 at Quail Hollow

Nation/World

States scale back vaccine orders as interest in shots wanes

Nation/World

Major US pipeline halts operations after ransomware attack

News

NC budget dance slowed as GOP leaders differ on bottom line

News

Judge limits footage that family can see of deputy shooting

Coronavirus

People receiving first dose of COVID-19 vaccine grows by less than 1%

Education

Rowan-Salisbury Schools brings Skills Rowan competition back to its roots

Business

Weak jobs report spurs questions about big fed spending

News

Judge limits footage that family can see of deputy shooting in Elizabeth City

Sports

Woodland, two others share lead; Mickelson plays much worse but will still be around for weekend at Quail Hollow

Business

Former NHL player to open mobster themed bar in Raleigh

Nation/World

California population declines for first time