By Jennifer Richardson
For those who enjoy giving or see generosity as something to aspire to, there is always the question of what to give.
Giving someone a gift is a wonderful way to say we care, but not the only way. Sometimes our greatest generosity is simply to be near. Presence is a gift. But what does it honestly mean to be present?
Being present can mean physically showing up for life’s milestones; going to the graduation, the wedding, or the birthday party. It means braving the weather, the crowds, and the parking to attend the music performance, the spelling bee, the track meet, the baseball game, or whatever else the people in our lives spend their energy to accomplish. People do not forget who makes the time to come and celebrate effort and achievement.
If we cannot attend the actual event, then we can make time to personally recognize it as important; a call, a dinner together, a party in their honor.
Presence can mean that we attend a funeral for someone we don’t even know. We understand that someone we are connected with loved the person who passed away. We respect the life they lived or the work they accomplished. Or we simply respect the sense of community that is strengthened when we share rituals that commemorate the beginning and the ending of a human heartbeat.
Presence is also a gift when it means we are truly focused on what is happening in someone else’s world. It means listening to the one who needs to talk, crying with the one whose spirit is crushed, and rejoicing with the one who has good news.
We are also contributing our presence when we are there to ask the difficult questions. Presence is understanding that when people are standing hand in hand, the chain can be broken—not just when someone falls—but when someone lets go. We can hang on when someone’s life hits rough waters.
Being present can also mean simply being by someone’s side. There are moments in life when people are not looking for answers, direction, or opinions—they just don’t want to be isolated or alone.
When my grandmother was spending her last weeks in a hospital bed there was nothing any of us could do to take her pain or give her another day on earth, but we could be near to hold her hand and sing to her—and so we were, and we did.
In a greater sense, presence is the antidote to the shift we are experiencing as a culture. Less and less time is devoted to human contact, and more time is spent in isolation and interaction with a digital world that is once removed from genuine humanity.
Presence is deliberate and intentional; I don’t just end up next to you, I chose to be with you because you and your life matter to me. The cost of presence is time; but this expenditure carries with it a promise that cannot be found in many other arenas of life—it is never wasted.
Be there; it is the most beautifully wrapped gift we can give.