Monday December 15, 2008
I’m working on a new challenge as we end this tumultuous year. It may seem simple enough on the surface. I’ll say it plainly. I want to learn better how to live in the present moment.
After all, it’s the only one we have. I’m quite capable of planning out my list of things to do on any given day. I spend a fair amount of time assessing the past. I think about how things might be different if I had only done this or thought of that or said yes instead of no or jumped at that opportunity that came and then went. My mind never seems to shut down; so I get lost in a television show or a podcast or a book. I hammer out arguments pro and con, and I develop theories of how we got in this economic mess and I debate with myself over theological imponderables just because I’ve always thought about these things.
I ordered a sandwich the other day at a lunch counter, and my pocket phone vibrated at the arrival of an email so I had to see what it was and by the time I came back to awareness of the task at hand, I realized that the poor woman who simply wanted to know if I cared for mayonnaise and mustard had been trying to get my attention for I’m not quite sure how long. She feigned patience. Smiled accommodatingly. The woman beside her laughed, and let me know that I’d vacated the premises for some time, though my body remained present there at the counter.
“I hope it’s good news,” she finally said, referencing the e-mail that stole away my attention from the lunch order.
I smiled, “Yes, it’s good news.”
“Good,” she responded, “we all need good news.”
And then she squirted equal swirls of mayo and mustard on to the honey wheat bread.
Aging has this effect, I’m told. At this stage I complain often about an overloaded memory bank. From time to time I’ll give my computer some maintenance. Have you ever watched the “defrag” function on your hard drive? It’s fascinating how files get fragmented and stored in pieces scattered all over the drive space. They say it’s a good thing to run the program that reconnects those fragmented files – it makes your machine run more efficiently. I want to know if there’s a program available to defrag my brain.
We Westerners are known for our cerebral life. We fire up the caffeine in the morning to get it racing. It’s the new status symbol to be diagnosed with attention deficit disorder. If you don’t have A.D.D., you’re just not running fast enough.
This year there is a whole new truckload of weighty things to think about – like survival. So we kick the planning into high gear.
This Christmas day, we’ll be together with our children and their children. (We’ve got it timed. On alternate years, they are with their spouse’s family.) Here’s my confession – I can get so lost in my whirlwind of cerebral noise, that I am capable of being somewhere else while in the very presence of the people I love the most.
It’s like reading e-mail while ordering a sandwich. “Mayo and mustard?”
* * * * * * * *
It’s Monday morning. You are a leader. We’re caught up in the race, like always. Our comfortable world has been shaken to the foundation. Our fragmented brains are racing in overdrive.
David looks to God and listens. “Be still.”
“Be still and know that I am God.”
And that’s what I’m working on this year.
So tonight, after turning in the tile cutter over at Home Depot tool rental, I looked up long enough to catch it. On a brisk winter evening in Southern California with visibility unlimited I saw it. A spectacular sunset, bright on the horizon painting the clouds spanning from North to South in fiery reds and lavender and magenta and grays and blues so big, encompassing the sky above and I knew it would just last a moment. So I stopped. I just looked up, one side to the other, and took it in.
For just one moment there in the parking lot of Home Depot, I let go of all the stuff. And on the way home I asked God to make this Christmas season like that sunset, so that the children and the giving of gifts and the squeals of the little ones, well, when all that happens, I want to be there.
Present. In the room.
Copyright Kenneth E Kemp, 2008