Being There: What Friendship and Connection Can Teach Us about Life

Being present and in the moment when family and friends need you means a lot to people. I learned this from my grandfather who showed up with cards and chocolates on Valentine’s Day during my childhood. He visited me when I was alone and on my own cross-country in Chicago. He was the only one in the room when my mother miscarried twins before I was born. He attended my cousins sports games and ballet recitals. Showing up is that extra thing you do to let people know someone cares.

Maybe, that’s why I married my husband. He embodies this sacred quality of being there for others. In this world, we are too often self-interested in our own pursuits, in screens, in enacting out the ideas in our heads. Conversations become quick as we half-listen and respond usually with an ulterior motive.

My husband owns a landscaping service. He shows up doing odd tasks and lawns for clients he has known for years. He’s built up friendships with them and is always quick to respond when they call. He helps friends out of crises. He’s shown up for me at my best and worst, as I do for him.

He’s never thinking only for himself. He just shows up and lives in the present tense. He’s never studied Buddhist meditation or taken mindfulness classes, yet he embodies this rhythm of life. He’s already here.

Learning to show up for others has helped me learn to show up to the page. Writing is a solitary activity, but it is the world of others which we write about. Only when we show up in our life and do for others can we truly understand the rhythms of life. Only when we show up can we absorb what the stories of others can teach us. We don’t write in a vacuum, if we do it probably isn’t very good. We write to show stories and we find them by being there as life unfolds.

Steve Hartman, a CBS Evening News reporter, does a segment every Friday night called On the Road where he searches for the simple, heart-warming stories that show American life and its struggles and triumphs over odds sometimes so great it brings tears to my eyes. He’s covered 10-year-old activists, veterans, the disabled, people whose voices you might not ordinarily hear. He just shows up with his camera crew and let’s people tell their stories. Some people say this isn’t real news; I beg to differ.

Sometimes in yoga practice, the instructor has us get into a complicated twist and turn of the body. I’ve always had trouble disciplining my mind to stay focused and present. I have to repeat the mantra to myself Stay in the Moment, Stay in Today. I slice backward and forward through the scenes in my mind and it leaves me depleted and off kilter emotionally and physically.

After college, I met a figure skater named Nicole. Nicole had down syndrome and had won gold in the Special Olympics. We went to a silly movie and after it was over I asked her something that was on my mind. “How did you achieve your goals?” I asked. She answered with three words. “Focus, Focus, Focus,” she said. It’s hard to focus when this world tells you exactly the opposite. It broadcasts from television, radio, the internet, the cell phone, the voices in our heads messages of distraction. Whether it be writing or listening deeply or doing yoga, I simply remember that word “Focus.”

It’s a simple word that brings me back to the present that forces me to be there in all I do. I can get lost excavating the craters of my past. But if I stay to long there, I’ll miss out on what is here in front of me, the delicious present.

There’s an old adage professed by writing instructors “Show Don’t Tell.” If when we write we tell the story, what we tell is from the past perspective. To write in the present, we must show the scene. Every writing instructor I’ve had has taught me to think in scene as if I were a movie director, to describe it using the six senses of see, hear, touch, taste, smell, and know. Perhaps, it is this last one, to know, that helps us get inside the moment to what we really feel.

Knowing who we are is not about existing in the moment; it’s about mindfully being in it. It’s learning from the past, whether idyllic or painful, coming to terms with the grief and the happiness embodying our beings.

When I was a child, I used to smile all the time. The other kids called me smiley. While we can’t smile all the time, the lesson here is about showing up in all we do with a smile. It’s one of attitude, staying positive, dancing to Pharrell’s “Happy.”

Sometimes during the day, I sit with feelings of emptiness and anxiety. In the quiet moment, I can feel the being of all things in the universe. It makes me uneasy, and a bit queasy. I have learned to let these feelings move past me like an ocean’s waves. Once the wave of insecurity passes I move myself into the present with three deep breaths.

My husband has the most amazing, indescribable laugh. He works with the earth and he never takes life too seriously. He has a joke for everyone about everything. It’s not about joining the rat race but about helping people in the moments when they need help.

Show up. Listen. Lean in.

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