I think now, more than ever, we have a lot of people using this phrase, but not everyone fully grasps its meaning. On the surface, we all know that the present is what is happening in the now, right in front of us, and this phrase suggests that we exist in that reality, but what does that mean, specifically?
For me, it means not looking so far ahead into the future at things that are completely unknown, and not dwelling on past events. It means cherishing the now for what it is, instead of reminiscing constantly on the way things were, or wishing for things to be different. That last part is not meant to imply that we should not aspire, as aspirations are an important cog in the wheel of what drives progress. But there is a distinct difference between aspiring toward more, and hopelessly wishing for things that may or may not ever come. The hopeless wishing certainly puts blinders on what is in the present.
How being present manifests itself is in the small choices each of us gets to make on a daily, often hourly, basis. It’s choosing to leave your phone in the car while eating lunch with a friend. It’s taking a few moments to meditate and recalibrate one’s soul toward true north however often it’s needed, and this may take many forms as well, such as through prayer, or just plain old sitting in silence. It’s not moving so fast that you miss the little parts. If we think of life like a movie, it’s being attentive enough to notice the subtle nuances that have the power to greatly shape the plot. These instances happen in all our lives, but how often do we take notice?
I am doing my best to take better notice of these details, and recently I was pulled into the present by a very small moment that unfolded into something huge for me and my son.
We bonded over laundry.
No, he wasn’t helping me sort loads or measuring out detergent for me (he’s only 9 months after all), but as I was shuffling around, rotating both of my kids through their night time routine – which consists of dinner, bath time, story time, and tucking in – I set my freshly bathed and pajama’d son down on the kitchen floor in front of the washing machine, and noticed how his eyes never seemed to look away from the rotating agitator as our clothes were tossed around amid splashes of foamy bubbles. I was fixing him a bottle at the time, and between measuring up the 8oz of water, warming it, and scooping in the formula powder, I couldn’t help but fixate on his fixation with the washer. His eyes were glued to it. Upstairs, my daughter was still in the bath, contently playing with her toys and awaiting my command to wash up and get out. All was well, all was right, and I made the choice to sit in this moment with my son. I grabbed my baby and held him close, and in the dimly lit kitchen, we watched the washer tick down the final seven minutes of its cycle together.
The sounds, the lights, the water and bubbles – all of it fascinated him. His eyes, his stillness, his willingness to allow me to share this with him – all of that fascinated me. He’s grown so much since his birth; I’m told that babies who have older siblings to look up to often develop faster because they are working to keep up. At birth, he was already turning and lifting his head; at five months, he had two teeth; at just over nine months, he is now walking. I am proud, but also sad. I set out to really cherish the first year of his life in ways that postpartum depression didn’t allow me to when I had my daughter. I enjoyed her first year, too, but it took me longer to fall into my place of motherhood with her. I don’t blame myself entirely, as I was new to the whole experience. But since my son will likely be the last baby I give birth to, I had a personal goal of soaking everything up double time so that I wouldn’t look back wishing I had.
As I pressed my cheek to his, I couldn’t help but notice how much bigger he’s gotten. I quietly reminded myself that he wouldn’t be like this forever, but I quelled my tendency to be sad in that moment, and instead steered my mind toward just being there with him.
The rinse cycle came to its end and made way for spin. The sounds of the machine intrigued him, and his little hand clutched my skin in anticipation for what would happen next. I could hear the faint sounds of my daughter upstairs playing happily, and I whispered to him, “It’s going to start moving really fast now!” He turned and looked at me almost as if he understood, and then put his cheek back on mine and peered at the washer. His bright, brown eyes were so fixed, and every time he blinked, his eyelashes grazed the side of my face. My heart was so full in this moment.
Lastly, once the timer had counted down to zero, I advised my baby boy that he would get to hear a little jingle. The turning stopped, the washer was still, silence, silence, silence…then it played its cute little tune to let us know it was done. As the short jingle concluded, I felt my son’s cheek poke into mine as he smiled. And seeing his delight certainly made me smile. What a beautiful gift the present can give if we are just willing to let it reach us. In this moment, I was able to unwrap my presence and it left a ribbon of affection on my heart.
As Christmas approaches and Hanukkah comes to a close, as you make your way to destinations all over to commemorate this season however you personally choose, I implore you not to miss the beauty of your presence either. Unwrap it and marvel at it. Take notice of the small things in the people around you whom you see every day. Give your surroundings a better look. From the majestic sight of a snow-capped mountain, to the simplicity of watching a honey bee, busy at its work, whatever your soul has access to, take notice. And after you’ve taken notice, allow yourself to enjoy it. Many of us are accustomed to thinking that journeys must be long experiences, but the soul can absolutely meet with the profound in short, small moments, too. Even as short as seven, five, or three minutes…