A Thanksgiving Epistle: Being Present

We learn to become more empathetic when we slow down, become present, and are fully committed to understanding another person’s uniqueness.
Arthur P. Ciaramicoli

Laughter and verbose conversation filled the room.  Hearing an elderly woman next to me took some effort.  I leaned in closer. 

“I got up at 6 am each day,” confided my new friend.  “I washed sheets, bathed him daily, shopped for groceries.  But I was never really with him.”   

Her vulnerability surprised me, especially since we had only met a few minutes earlier.  My simple question: “How are you doing?” turned into a confessional about the last year of her husband’s life—a difficult, slow death from Parkinson’s Disease.  I hoisted a fork full of vegetable medley to my lips.  I chewed quietly and listened.

“That’s my one regret. Does that make sense?” she asked. “Physically I was doing all this stuff, but emotionally I wasn’t there.  I never really asked him how he was feeling.  He went downhill quickly. Then he was gone.”

My regret-filled friend did all the right things for her dying husband.  Her one regret—not being emotionally and spiritually present for him.      

Most of us can relate.  Buying the right gifts, arriving on time, fighting traffic, cooking the flawless meal, sending that last email, putting up the perfect decorations might occupy our minds and energy this holy season.  But in the midst of our frenetic lives, we can forget to be truly present—enjoying friends, family, and strangers in our midst with a listening ear, an attentive spirit, and attuned to what God is doing in our midst.  As C.S. Lewis said so beautifully, “Next to the blessed sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.”     

Reflection Questions
1. What are the major distractions in your life keeping you from being fully attentive and present?
2. What are some things you can do to help focus on what’s really important during this season?