I saw a meme the other day about being present by investing time with family and friends. Build up good memories and experiences and they cannot be taken away. Ironically, this was on Facebook as a cautionary tale to minimize the impact social media has on our IRL (in real life) existence. I am doubling down on it through this online community.
Maybe this is preaching to the choir. But, as we approach Thanksgiving and the end of year holidays this is a good time for reflection. We gather with family and friends. We may not see eye to eye with each of these people during the year and our time apart may create awkwardness and estrangement. So it is worth rekindling and valuing the gift of presence and the art of attentive listening.
Like many of you, we have a family calendar in our kitchen. We update this month-at-a-glance whiteboard, rewrite and color-code it. Because my wife, my child, and I have such highly individualized schedules, it is necessary to tame all that data and chaos into some sort of order.
In response to it, my daughter began using the calendar to focus on how much time she gets to play with her friends every day. The more time she spends on that, the more difficulty she has keeping up with time for chores, homework, etc. She struggles with the calendar. For my wife and myself, the calendar was a way to communicate when we would not be home. The unspoken agreement was that whoever was home was the “adult onsite” responsible for meal preparation and any transportation needs for our child’s activities.
Additionally for me, I draw up each year’s Religious Education calendars for work as early as January. Plotting out Jewish High Holy Days alongside Catholic Christmas, Lent and Easter and other school holidays, I plan the calendars for the Holidays and for time with family. But the calendar becomes a hurdle to get through to that time together.
Despite having this organized written record, the absent-minded adults and the inattentive child often ask seriously or rhetorically, “What do you have today?”, “When will you be home?”, “What are we doing for dinner?”
The irony is the “answer” is on the board. But in truth, what is on the board is often incorrect. We talk and plan more in order to settle the schedule “once and for all.” After seeing the meme, I started to consider shifting our focus.
What if we paid attention to being more actively present to each other first and scheduled ourselves by that?
Perhaps if we approached our time together with as much urgency as wanting to go off with friends or to be on time for work, we’d be in a better place. Time shouldn’t be the schedule we cannot escape. Togetherness should be what shapes our daily lives.
Turning off and tuning in
I spend a lot of my work time on computers. Push notifications, work emails and texts come to my phone constantly. I have made it a habit to not work on the computer at home. When I’m at home I place my phone on its charger and only take it off to go running. No calls or messages come at those times.
My wife works from home, except when the inevitably unpredictable changes that. So it isn’t as easy for her. My child has grown up watching less TV, but has all manner of social media in the palm of her hand. This is not as easy or deliberate a thing either. It often takes just as long for everyone to get unplugged at the dinner table as it does to get dinner on the table. And it seems that whenever one is alone, one is always reaching for something electronic to fill that space. (For me it’s my iPad or the TV remote).
We are tuned in and deeply in relationship with our electronics. In a different way than when I was a child, we are turned off by time at home, time alone, and time with one another.
Is there a way to make more clear to each member of our families that we are first and foremost about being really present to each other with our lives?How else are we to recognize the real presence of God, in whose image we are made?
© Copyright 2016 Jay Cuasay