“Let us transition now from getting here to being here.” the pastor of our local church says every Sunday morning after the morning announcements, as the lights dim, the organ begins, and the “call to worship” is made.
There is a big difference in just being somewhere and being present somewhere. Or as Michael Forbes put it, “Presence is more than just being there.”
How many times have I heard and used the trendy cliche “Just Show Up” as a rationalization for not wanting to participate but feeling obligated. I end up being there physically but my heart and mind are elsewhere, hence there is little or no impact from my experience.
One thing to be said about just showing up, however, is that sometimes it results in the surprise of learning something new or experiencing a sense of unexpected enjoyment. But most times, it doesn’t. Showing up is simply that, just showing up, just putting my body somewhere.
I walk 110 steps from my door to the shared laundry room in our condominium building. I do it routinely, without thought or emotion. This week I took the walk, as usual, at a time of day when I thought no one else would be doing laundry. I like to have it to myself! I opened the door and to my surprise, there was a neighbor I hadn’t seen in a while, unloading her washer into the dryer.
“Hi!” she chirped welcomingly.
“Hi.” I responded less chirp-ly
“How are you?” she asked.
“Well. I’m fine, and sad, and tired, and happy. I guess I’m a little bit of everything! How are you?” I replied not really expecting anything in response and began loading my dirty clothes into the washer.
“Wow”, she said. “What’s going on? The holidays?” she asked as she stopped her unloading, turned towards me and looked right at me.
So, I stopped too. “Maybe a little holiday stress, but mostly it’s my friend. She is dying from a brain tumor and she’s young, the age of my daughter, and she has 3 children, all teenagers. I worked with her for many years and really love her. Some of her mutual friends got together last night in my home and just shared what she means to us. It was really good to be together, but very sad.”
Now thats a lot to dump on someone in the laundry room, right?
Well, she was ready. She listened to every word and felt my sadness with her facial expressions and a tear ran down her cheek as she said, “I’m so sorry. That’s very sad.”
We continued talking for a few minutes and eventually got back to the task at hand and finished loading and unloading. She gave me a hug and left.
On my way back to my unit, instead of mindlessly counting the 110 steps like I usually do, I realized the sweetness that had come over me from being heard by another. I felt less sad and my tired heart felt renewed…all in a moment, a brief laundry room moment. My neighbor took the time to listen and respond, to be present.
In this special time of life, when each day is closer to the last, I don’t want to use my energy in just showing up and taking the risk of not having the experience count for something purposeful. I want to be wholly wherever I am, or at least as wholly as I can be. I want to make my moments count by receiving whatever the moment gives and give something of myself to the moment and not miss out by not being fully present.
My neighbor had shown up fully present for me and surprised me by making an impact on my outlook.
When we lived in England, raising our young children, one of our favorite times of the year was Christmas. The British celebrations were fairly simple (in the late 1960’s!) centered around tiny mince pies and lovely, calming carols. The children always participated in the nativity play at school and church and bought home their parts as shepherds, kings, Mary and Joseph. With sweet English accents, they would say their lines and sing their carols…”Little Donkey, Little Donkey…” “Away in a Manger” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”. A favorite, though, at our house was the verse, “What can I give Him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I’d give him a lamb. If I were a wiseman, I would do my part, but what can I give Him? I’ll give Him my heart!” (You HAVE to use a British accent, though, or it’s not quite right!)
In a world distracted by preparations, by efficiency, success and accomplishment, what a wonderful gift to find someone present, in the moment, listening, caring, responding and giving…even in the laundry room.
My heart. My full attention. My listing ears, my gentle speech, my wholehearted presence in the moment. It is really the best gift of all.
What will be your best gift this season? To whom will you give it?