Presence and My Grandmother's Gift
When I was little my grandmother and I would sit at her kitchen table and drink big mugs of hot tea and dunk a few delights from the classic flip top box of Little Debby’s Donuts. One day she asked, “How are you?” and in an instant, even then, young as I was, I knew she actually wanted to know. It was shocking. Someone asked and actually wanted to know! No pat answers. No rushing. Nothing required. I doubt I put much thought into my response, but the gift she gave me that day has lasted a lifetime: the gift of authentic presence.
How did she demonstrate presence? How did she develop it? What impact did she have?
Gram simply sat with me that day, her body at ease, doing nothing else. I felt like her mind was alert yet quiet, as though she had spread out a blanket for us to be simply together. Time seemed to stand still. It was soothing. I felt held, down to the core of my inner self.
Gram’s presence wasn’t the result of education, self help books, or communication training. It was natural. She was a strong, loving woman from Czechoslovakia with a sixth grade education. She had lived a difficult, unprivileged life - an immigrant at age 13 with rudimentary language skills who lived through world wars and the Depression with a husband who was both deeply generous and alcoholic, and who died soon after their children were grown.
Maybe Gram was born with innate presence. Maybe it grew out of the need to hold herself steady and remain open-hearted through life’s highs and lows. She had likely practiced presence so many times for herself that it was simply part of who she was. Someone who was here in the now. Noticing what is without judgment. Quietly aware of nuance. Someone at ease in her own skin.
In that singular moment with Gram I felt safe, connected, included. Her presence crystallized in me a trust of something inherent and larger than myself. I often think ‘it’, that infinite, loving, unnamable something, is what holds me, too, through the highs and lows of life. It’s natural. Part of us all, both our inner and outer selves.
Presence seems to beget more presence. With presence we grow more receptive, access our intuition, think creatively, try new things, change more easily than we might otherwise. We harness our emotions for greater good, engage with flexibility, kindness, integrity.
Presence helps us listen, learn, and help one other. It’s the foundation of communication and relationship, the root of helping people discover themselves, couples defining partnership, families navigating life together, friends being there for each other, governments making quality decisions and businesses making ethical choices. It’s the root of communities growing together.
Every day I hesitate or struggle, but each time I refocus on presence, being here now with an open heart, my mind quiet yet alert, I calm down and orient myself to move forward. In a nanosecond I recall the feeling my grandmother gave me so long ago when she asked ‘how are you’ and actually wanted to know. Her way reminds me what a lasting big impact we have on each other, likely when we least realize it. Presence: the gift we can give ourselves and one another. The gift that keeps on giving.