School is out, my girls are home, things have slowed down a bit, and my thoughts have turned to presence. That’s right. Presence, not presents. While everyone else is rushing from one thing to the next, I’m thinking about the importance of being present. Here. Now. I know, the holidays are upon us with all of their crazy scurrying about. But, perhaps, that is when we need to be present most of all.
I got an email on Friday that kicked me in the solar plexus. No need to elaborate, but it could have ruined my day. I was about to begin Morning Meeting with my kindergarteners and wondered just how I could do that with composure. I took a deep breath, lifted a Help! prayer (Anne Lamott-style), sat down in my teacher’s chair and began.
First, I took a moment to look at the faces staring back at me. I pondered what I loved about each face, each personality. I drank in the fact that they were sitting there, literally looking up to me, waiting for me to reveal some new truth or teach them some new thing. My thoughts drifted for a moment back to the email. “Be present,” I told myself. “Don’t go there.”
And, so, I did. Stay present, that is.* And I began to read Santa’s Favorite Story. It’s the book I read at the birthday parties for Jesus we held in our home each December when my girls were young. The story goes like this: Some animals find Santa sleeping in the forest on Christmas Eve and are worried that there isn’t going to be any Christmas. Santa tells the animals that Christmas doesn’t have anything to do with him, and he tells them the story of the first Christmas. He finishes by saying, “It’s my favorite story because it reminds me why we are so happy at this time of year. Love was the gift God gave to us on the first Christmas, and it still is, you know. And this love is far better than any presents I can deliver.”
There’s a lesson or two (or three) here, people.
One: Being present means taking care of yourself. The Big Guy is taking a nap on Christmas Eve. It’s his busiest day of the year and he’s practicing radical self care. Whoa. When you’re overwhelmed, stop and listen to what your heart (and body) are telling you. Then do at least one thing to take care of yourself. It’s amazing how it will energize you for the tasks ahead.
Two: Being present means focusing on the people around you. As many of you know who follow me on Facebook and Twitter, I’m addicted to social media. I could spend hours tweeting and posting and forgetting about everything and everyone around me. But my three beautiful daughters are here for a brief visit this week and I’m aware that our time together is precious. So I close my computer, turn off the ringer on my phone, and sit down with them to watch “Elf.” In minutes, we are laughing and quoting lines and being present with each other. I look at them sitting on the sofa, heads in laps, all beauty and light, and I fall in love with them all over again. So love the one(s) you’re with. Which brings me to my third, and last, point.
Three: Being present means opening your heart to loving and being loved. I know, we’re all in pain. Someone we love is sick or dying. We’ve been wounded by our parents or our spouse. Our children are ungrateful. We’re out of money, time and patience. We’re a mess, we’re feeling vulnerable, and to heck with everybody. “I’m not going to let one more person in just to let them hurt me,” we mutter to ourselves. And right there is the very reason we should. We need love and we need to practice love. It’s what we were created to do.
Oh, yeah. That photo at the top? That’s a picture of my family taken at Christmas when I was about three. Of the five of us, only my brother, Horace (left) and I are left. I miss Mama and Daddy and Lawrence, especially at Christmas. But missing them reminds me of who I do have in my life and how rich it is and how blessed I am. And that is being present. And it’s the best gift ever.
* It turned out to be a great day.