A couple months ago I went to Walgreen's. I picked up a few items and took them to the register. The woman who rang me up was on the phone. She acknowledged me with a nod while she rang up my order, talked on the phone, and straightened out a display on the counter. When she hung up, there was a big smile on her face. "Always multi-tasking, that's me!" She was clearly very proud of her ability to do so. I was not as impressed as she expected me to be. Why? Because I was one of those tasks, and she was only giving me one third of her attention - probably less, when you figure that she also probably had some stuff running all around in her brain that wasn't immediately visible to the casual observer. I was only getting a third of her attention that I knew of.
Now I can multi-task too, and certainly have when the situation dictates a need. Everyone can. It's not a particularly impressive skill, it's just a necessity of life sometimes. She may have been in just that situation and I don't judge her for that. I wasn't bothered so much by the multi-tasking as I was by the evident pride she took in it. I thought about how differently I would have handled the same situation. I would have hung up the phone and said (to the actual living customer in front of me) "I'm so sorry about that!" Then I would have been sure to give them my undivided attention for the remainder of the transaction. Which took, like thirty seconds. Are all of these other things so important that you can't give another human being thirty seconds?
Ok, this was a small, tiny incident and maybe I'm being too hard on the Walgreen's clerk for not giving my chapstick and band aids the attention they deserved. Or maybe I'm being self-important - expecting a clerk to drop everything and actually wait on me when I come to her counter. But wait - isn't that her job? She was so proud of all of the things she was accomplishing at once that she neglected the real live person in front of her.
She was a clerk at Walgreen's and I was a customer. It didn't put a real strain on our relationship. But think about how often we do this to our friends, our spouses, our children. If my feelings were hurt when the clerk at the drugstore couldn't offer me thirty seconds of her undivided, think about how it feels to our loved ones when we can't step away from our oh-so-important chores to give them our undivided for a moment or two.
This seems to become a lot more exaggerated during the holiday season. We're trying to accomplish a million things at once and not giving our full attention to any of them. Maybe it's time to slow down. Maybe it's time to pay a little less attention to the shopping, the baking and the decorating and a little more attention to the people who are right in front of us. Will they be more likely to remember the perfect tree, or the conversations you have when you're doing nothing but listening to them? Which would you be more likely to remember?
It occurs to me that I may be feeling the need to write this because I do not have the perfect tree or the perfect decorations. I have not and will not bake the perfect cookie. I will not be giving anyone the perfect gift this year. But I can listen. I can give a little time. I can find a way to make that time undivided. I can do that. Maybe this is my way of convincing myself that that's good enough.
Please don't tell me I'm wrong...