THERE’S NO PRESENT LIKE BEING PRESENT
One year ago, almost to the day, this was my family.
To my left was sweet Mitch unaware he had about 2 months to live. He wasn't feeling well during the holidays and we thought he just had a cold. We didn't realize his heart, weary and tired from the destructive effects of DMD, was beginning to fail. We didn't realize this was it … that the time had come.
We sat as a family to break bread a few days before Christmas and I was so grateful to be with everyone most dear to me. My in-laws were with us and in a few hours we would share some Christmas gifts with each other. But for Natalie and me, no gift was equal to the time we spent together.
As a child I remember being so excited about receiving presents. During the weeks leading up to each Christmas I was always on the hunt for that secret stash of presents that would appear on Christmas morning from my mother and that benevolent icon dressed in red and white. As a young child, getting stuff was so much fun. But as each year passed, so my appetite for getting grew fainter. As I grew older I discovered that giving was far more rewarding that getting. Today I am scarcely interested in getting … I only want to give. My children have since gained an appetite for giving – which, for me, is a gift within a gift.
There I sat at our table, surrounded by everyone I love, and I began to think back on moments in my life when I was with my family but distracted by the million-and-one things that tugged at my mind and attention. There were bills to pay, three different payrolls to meet, projects to complete, a thousand personal and professional commitments, taxes, that leaking faucet in the basement, the ice on my driveway … the list is ever present and always beckoning for my attention. Each were important, some more than others, but none of that was as important as these souls seated at my table.
And though I must work so I can feed my family, I live so I can love them.
At one point I grabbed my iPhone and hastily took a panoramic photo because I didn't want to forget this moment. In life, I would rather take a bad photo than no photo – and in this case I’m so glad I did. I would have forgotten so much about this day – in fact I would have forgotten that I had forgotten. Now that I have a photo of this moment my memory is vivid, my heart is full and love overflowing.
So at our table this day I resolved to re-evaluate my life and priorities and make sure that I maintain balance and appropriate focus on my core values. And with Christmas around the corner I couldn't help but think of the gifts we give and take – that the things we wrap do not Christmas make. Just as I had made that commitment to myself the thought occurred to me that there is no present like being present. Being present … I mean totally and completely present is the greatest gift we can give each other. I have found when I’m present I can truly listen, empathize, learn and love. But when I’m distracted or casually engaged, I cannot do anything well. In fact, when I’m less-than-present I can hurt those I love by appearing disinterested or uncaring – when in reality, they are all I really care about.
Later this night little Mitch asked me in his sweet voice, “Dad, will you tuck me in?” My heart leapt at the chance. And today, when I walk into his room and see his empty bed, my heart yearns to tuck him in once more … to run my fingers through his hair, to see his soft smile and hear his laughter, to listen to what’s on his mind, to give him the gift of being present. I wasn't always good at it – in fact I probably failed more than I succeeded. But I tried. I really, really tried.
Yet, when I look back and remember the times I was truly present … those times were a gift to Mitch and a gift to me. And now, because of time well spent, I have the gift of memory.