Point of View: Plant Your Cabbages

“Pay attention”

   Our daughter, who while she wasn’t particularly athletic has one of her own who shows every sign of being so, recalled the other evening that her girls softball coach had been a marvelous encourager and that, thus, she had grown, through his encouragement and through practice, to rather love the game and to play it well.
    I remembered, after some cogitation, that his mantra — what he told the kids when they gathered around him — was, “Pay attention.” Yet, often — certainly it’s been so in my case — we tend toward not paying attention. Maybe to pay too much attention will break your heart. 
    The coach’s first name was Leander. Edith Hamilton’s “Mythology” says his namesake, an exemplar of persistence, swam the Hellespont every night guided by a light held by his love on the far shore.
    Interestingly, Jane Brody in a recent column on optimism, links it, not so much to a chronically happy state, but to persistence, to engagement, and to genes governing the brain’s neurotransmitters.
    Much points, of course, toward a pessimistic view of life — we are here only for so long and then it is taken from us. Yet it is so wondrous, despite the horrors.
    Sometimes, though, life’s spark is extinguished even while we live, a prospect that gives me more pause than does a quick exit. Montaigne warns against such fearful thoughts. Get on with it, he says. Hey, you never know!
    And since you never know, pay attention to planting your cabbages. His own brother, he tells us, “died at the age of 23 while playing tennis; he was felled by a blow from a tennis ball just above the right ear.”
   Should I give up tennis then? No, because for me it’s pleasurable and I’m an optimist — ordained to be so perhaps. Still, I shouldn’t complain, especially given the fact that I’ve exceeded my threescore and 10, and, furthermore, to complain would be pessimistic.
    When Thomas Wentworth Higginson wrote Emily Dickinson to tell her he was getting married, she said that was wonderful and that the greatest compliment she could pay him was that “you are yourself.”
    As for me, I’m an optimist. I persist. I take delight in life and in physical activity, and would like to think I’ve been an encourager to some, though I try not to pay too much attention. For to do so can break your heart.