Winter was pressing gently on us and the skiffs of snow and crisp air seemed to promise colder, snowier days ahead. With the holidays approaching, Mitch was excited about the season of dad’s famous hot chocolate, sleigh riding, popcorn and movies by the fireplace, Christmas presents and lots of cuddles. The little boy in me was excited, too.
I left a busy day of work so I could meet little Mitch at the University of Utah Hospital where he was to meet with Dr. Flanigan, a specialist who is leading some research with neuromuscular disease and DMD.
Just 20 minutes prior to taking this photo I was in the hall of the hospital peeking at Mitch through the door of an examination room that was open a crack. I was pretending to sneak around while a nurse was doing some benchmark tests. Mitch kept trying to hold in his giggles as if we were both going to get busted. I remember when I was a young child trying to prevent a giggle at church or in school … it was always the moments you weren’t supposed to laugh that seemed to make giggling the most intense. Mitch was having one of those moments where he was about to lose himself in laughter. The nurse played along and pretended to be stiff and orderly – but in her heart, she was giggling with us. I was so grateful for medical staff who care for the heart and soul as much as they do the body.
At the end of the doctor’s visit, I kissed my wife and kids and said goodbye. As I started to walk to my own car, Mitch turned around and smiled as I said “I wuv you Mitchie!” My heart was overflowing then and it overflows today when I look at this photo and see his smiling face.
I don’t remember the substance of the business meetings I had that day, but I can tell you the meaning of these moments and what happened with my son. I remember what happened because that’s what matters most to me and I chose to be in the moment. If I wasn’t careful, I could have shown up at the hospital but never really arrived. I know how easy it is to be distracted and disconnected from what is in front of us. From the digital devices that entice us away to preoccupations of work or hobby … or perhaps simply stress; it is easy to be somewhere but nowhere.
I have discovered the true present of being present. Not only did being fully engaged with my son mean a lot to him then, reflecting back on this moment now is a gift of comfort to my weary heart. It is a reminder to me, when I’m tempted to doubt myself, that perhaps once in a while I got something right. It motivates me to keep getting things right. I miss the mark more often than I want to … but I keep trying.
Just the other day I was visiting with my mother about life. I asked her, “What is the one thing in life that has most surprised you?” She said, “The brevity of it.” I immediately felt the truth of her words. Life is brief … and moments are briefer, still. How easy it is to be swept away in the thick of thin things and be robbed of life’s greatest gifts. This photo is a symbol of the present of being present.
So, when I think back on this cold winter day, while we were carefully wrapping presents we'd soon give away … I realized that very moment the greatest gift we can give one another is time and attention: love from mom and dad, sister and brother. It’s never toys and things our kids are really after … but love, acceptance, guidance and laughter. Those are gifts of greatest import … for life, after all, is exceedingly short. And when I die and see my Father and my long lost son, I won’t be asked if I got my work things done. The real question and answer, whether good or bad, will be what I did with the life I had. Did I invest my time and attention in things that mattered most? Or was I swept away in material things, for which the world boasts?
One is hollow, emptier than empty. The other is rich, filled to infinity.