Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Gift of Presence

While on a holiday concert tour last December, I was inspired to “pay it forward” at a Panera. Because it was lunchtime rush hour, the cashier was inconvenienced by my good intentions. She had to find a piece of paper, write down my credit card number, and go through a couple extra steps in order to set it up for the next customer. Not only was it a hassle, but it was a security issue! I hid behind a plant, spying on the next customer while furtively sipping tea and trying to look as much like the wallpaper as possible. The next customer wasn’t just one person; it was a family of four. However, when I checked my account later and saw the $10.42 charge, I realized they only accepted my anonymous generosity for a fraction of their lunch. From my position behind the plant, they looked more confused than grateful. But then again, that’s how most parents of small children look in public.

After lunch, I walked over to Barnes and Noble to buy a Christmas present for a friend. I picked out a book and brought it to the “Free Gift Wrapping” counter. The lady there was clearly stressed by the rapidly growing line of eager gift-givers. Unfortunately, her book-wrapping looked like the diaper job I did for my dolls when I was three. Trying to be helpful, I asked if I could re-wrap the book myself. Not only did I wound the pride of the frazzled gift-wrapper that day, but I also picked a book that my friend hated, as I would find out later. 

The whole day was full of failed attempts at goodwill. In that evening’s concert, however, I sang my heart out and gave the only gift I knew how to give well: myself. I didn’t fail. That day, I realized that being the most open and generous version of myself for one hour can create more joy in and around me than one hundred Tiffany bracelets. 

Gift exchanges are wonderful and fun, but being present is the best present you could ever give to me, and it is the best present that I could ever give to you. Here are ten tips for giving the gift of presence:

  1. Put your phone away
  2. Notice something new about the person you’re with
  3. Smile at strangers. Yes, even in NYC!
  4. Take time for yourself 
  5. Give compliments
  6. Carry around small things to share when you notice someone in need: throat lozenges, chocolate, gum, etc.
  7. Replace social media time with face time 
  8. Walk slower 
  9. Look up, not down at the ground
  10. Learn a few jokes and share them 

“If nature has made you for a giver, your hands are born open, and so is your heart; and though there may be times when your hands are empty, your heart is always full, and you can give things out of that--warm things, kind things, sweet things--help and comfort and laughter--and sometimes gay, kind laughter is the best help of all.” 
Frances Hodgson Burnett, A Little Princess