“This is a painting that my daughter posed for in an old jacket that was coming apart at the seams. The frayed edges felt like a good metaphor…” - Rick Beerhorst
One day (about 30 years ago) after getting my hair trimmed, I came home to find a fire truck at the house. As I pull up, a firefighter walks over to my car and says, “Are you the mom?”
I wince. His tone of voice is testy.
This firefighter isn’t a happy camper because he had just put out a fire in our backyard.
Here’s the part that peeved him. My 8 or 9-year-old son set it; he was home alone. (My fingers hurt typing that.) Bored. (He was supposed to be sick.)
Being the ingenious thrill-seeker he is, he found where his dad hid the left-over July 4th firecrackers and matches. Having watched them set off and with a can-do attitude, he lit and aimed those bottle rockets into the bay behind our house. One stuck in the pampas grass, which is a perfect ignition material.
So here’s the question: where was I?
Answering that question fully has the potential of an eyebrow-raising memoir. For now, I’ll say that I wasn’t too present.
I was all over the place involved in this and that, helping so and so, running here and there, working my—at the time—cute little ass off. Not that helping or giving or serving or working is a bad thing. They aren’t. It’s how I used work and activity to escape being present in my own life and responsibilities. There are reasons and stories around my lack of presence. Maybe they’ll eek out someday in this blog.
What matters is that I’m different now.
I practice being present. The key word is practice.
And I practice often. (I need to.)
This morning I noticed I practiced. I want to write about it to remember.
It’s a little thing. Dazzlingly simple.
Terry sits in his chair. I sit on the ottoman in front of him. We do this daily. To back up a bit, we usually wake with silence.
So I sit down. I look into his eyes and smile. A soft-faced, half-smile. My lips turn up ever so slight on the edges. He looks back into my eyes. Think tender. He holds my gaze. I hold his. A minute passes. Maybe more. He smiles. I smile back. Another minute passes. He touches my arm, a gentle wisp of his hand on my forearm. Our eyes stay. A few more minutes. He blinks, intentionally. I smile and slowly get up. In just three minutes, I feel connected, loved, and seen.
I remember poet Mary Oliver’s encouragement: “To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.”
And Thich’s words.
In his book True Love, Thich Nhat Hanh writes about presence as the greatest gift we can give another. He describes the four aspects of love as being there, recognizing the presence of the other, deep listening, and learning to speak with love.
To love is above all to be there. I was there today and so was he. If I can do this with Terry, I can do it with you.