The Benefits of Paying Attention

Todd Cantor
3 min readMar 15, 2021

As I left the house this evening for a routine walk to the store, I had no idea that I was about to be remembering. Remembering what it is to be human. Remembering that we are all connected.

It was an innocent step to fulfill a simple task, my walk to the store. But it ended up a reminder of the gift of consciousness. Not just the daily doing of life, but the choice to remain open to the moments that change us. That make us again, who we have always been.

As I walked, A box of books appeared. Normally I will stop and view the current selection of books in the neighborhood book exchange libraries, but this was a random box cast out on the sidewalk. It was not the neighborhood book exchange, that you would expect to find in a neighborhood full of young parents. The primer’s if you will on the subject of life. This box was different.

This box manifested as something else.

Abandoned books, left by the new occupants of a house that had been recently renovated. In normal times it would have sold quickly, but in the time of Covid, it had sat on the market longer than usual. Quaint. Small but comfortable. I had spoken with the young man who had purchased the property a few days earlier, commenting about the spacious backyard, which I had seen when the fence was down prior to the house going on the market.

This box of books, sitting without sign or note; left for passersby for whom these words might pique interest. As I glanced down, I was struck by the author of the book at the top of the stack. As I was by the title

Jane Austen. Persuasion.

With eye captured, I scanned the remainder of the titles, in the end snatching two from the pile. I was intrigued by this book Persuasion; however, I did not know it. As I strolled towards the store, the flyleaf informed me that I had just selected the last published complete work of a groundbreaking author, a woman far ahead of her time in advancing the perspective of strong, intellectually capable woman. The book however, had more to reveal. As I read, the front cover flyleaf, the back cover sagged without explanation and as the cover fell away it revealed the backside of a photo. At the same time, the sticky notes attached to the inside of the front cover fanned out revealing a list of titles, each of these notes containing an author and a title. A list, if you will, of titles remaining to be read at the exact moment the notes had been written. Topics to capture. Subjects to understand. The list could have been endless I suppose. The spirit it intended to capture as elusive as the mastery of this life. But the intention palpable.

And then there was the picture.

As I flipped the picture over, revealing a young woman and her child bathing, I stopped cold in my tracks. The wide-eyed expressive look of a toddler, barely a moment away from infancy. A young boy, transfixed on the camera that I could only suppose was held by his father as he shared a bath with the woman who had birthed him into this world. The look of joy on the face of this young woman in the bath with her nearly newborn son. The very real intimacy of mother and child in a moment of nurturing and vulnerability. The essence of the best of the human spirit.

It is a precious and priceless photo and one that I was quite surprised was left on the sidewalk, long forgotten in the fold of a book that must have no longer seemed as relavant as it once might have been. The story of love and life contained in it pages, perhaps now taken for granted in a world filled with responsibility and duty.

In that moment I was gifted. I was gifted of the reminder of our shared humanity. A priceless gift.

I collect first editions of my favorite authors. In the front cover flyleaf of one of them, perhaps my favorite, there is a letter. The letter will always live with the book. It was placed there with love. It belongs with the book as its author intended it to be. It says as much in the letter. I think that for this new book, the one that I picked up on the sidewalk, that this photo is the same. That whatever path this book may take, that it remind the reader of the precious and sacred bond that we share in family.

That we share in the human family.



Todd Cantor

Father, partner and seeker of existential knowledge. Writing things down in a spirit of service and global healing