Our breath spangled the frosty December evening as we waved goodbye. My dog, Zeke, dropped, exhausted, to his mat in the living room to dream of chasing tennis balls and his best friend, our neighbors’ boxer dog, Cinder. We’d spent a good two hours watching the dogs zoom like maniacs across the lawn chasing balls and each other. The men wandered to the back for target practice while my neighbor and I leaned on the deck rail, petting Zeke and sharing stories about horses we had known and loved.
It was a perfect Sunday afternoon.
Sundays were once like this, a day of presence, first with God in church, then with family for dinner, then with family and friends for visits or fun. Presence. I think a lot about presence the days especially as social media becomes ubiquitous and most of our interactions with others occur through the computer screen.
My grandmother lived with us and she was one of seven children, so every Sunday one of my aunts or great-aunts or uncles would visit. Visiting hours were typically two or three o’clock; if family did not visit, we piled into my dad’s 1962 blue Ford with the black hood, replaced after a car accident and never repainted, and we’d rumble to the duck pond to feed the ducks or to the playground to swing and slide and play in the fresh air.
Sometimes, if we were very lucky, there would by Jiffy Pop popcorn on the stove and a fire in the “real” fireplace in the living room. Sometimes there would be movies on television or Wild Kingdom or Disney’s Magic Kingdom and soup and sandwiches and more laughter and fun.
But always, presence.
We were fully present with one another. In those days, there were no screens other than the television screen. And even though we lived in metro New York City, there were 8 channels on the television set, and Channel 21 was iffy unless the rabbit-ear antenna was adjusted just right. My mother had no hesitation ordering the television shut off when company came, either, and it stayed silent. The soundtrack of those Sunday afternoons was the laughter from my grandmother and her brothers and sisters as they shared stories and caught up on the gossip from their huge extended family.
Stories. Presence. We have lost the art of visiting and we are rapidly as a society losing the art of being present with one another.
This Christmas season, give the gift that only you can give. Give the gift of presence. Be wholly, fully present. Keep your cellphone in your pocket. Turn off the television and the radio and the music and the internet. Tell stories. Share time together. Play a game. Play with your dogs. Organize hot cocoa and cookies and skating parties and snowman building fun and tree decorating parties and tell stories.
It is the gift everyone will cherish long after the holidays are over.