03 May 2010

Present ... or Accounted For

A couple of years ago, when Household-6 and I were considering having another child, I was having a hard time getting out of my own head. For a while, I couldn't see or hear a kid--any kid, including my own precious little girl--without somehow also instantly adding up all the potential money, effort, and parental heartache that child represented--past, present, and future. I tied myself into mental knots, worrying about everything from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) to paying for school. I was ... well, let's just say I wasn't exactly the happiest Sherpa around.

Jeff W. has been a good and constant friend for years. I'd go so far as to call him my best friend, especially since he went and married my other best friend.

Together, Jeff and I have heard the chimes at midnight. He's the guy with whom I discovered the joys of single-barrel bourbon, and dark-roasted Kenya AA coffee bean, and blasting loud music out of open windows on cool spring days. Well into our forties, we still play video games together. The retirement home we end up in had better have a jumbo TV and an X-box.

Jeff's advice has steadily gotten more sage (and less mixed with alcohol) over the years, perhaps due to the charcoal-filtered good influence of his wife. They're good people, and--although they'd probably balk at me saying this--good role models.

One weekend visit--we don't live in the same city anymore--Jeff offered these simple words of advice:

"Remember to be present for your family."

Somehow, that line allowed me to short-circuit the psychological loopback I'd worked myself into. "Be present." In other words, if you're with your kids, be with your kids. If you're with your wife, be with your wife. Don't dwell upon the unknowable, and steadfastly and straight-forwardly regard the knowable. Deal with facts, not speculations. Forget what you don't know, and be in the now.

Mindfulness and presence are constant themes in military life. At unit formations, our platoon sergeants report "all present or accounted for"--everyone is is his or her place. Nearly every briefing includes a discussion of safety--how to be mindful of the risks that have been identified. As soldiers, we are constantly reminded to look out for our buddies; to pay attention to how we are executing our assigned tasks; to react to conditions on the ground as we find them, not as we assume them to be.

Household-6 and I are struggling to keep things moving as we prepare our family for deployment. There are so many distractions: Kids, wife, household maintenance, Army training, writing a blog, legal matters and finances. Household-6's mom and dad took the kids this weekend, so we could focus on getting some Spring Cleaning done around the house. The gift of their time also allowed us a rare opportunity to be present just for each other--hanging out (kids-free!) at the local diner; talking about hopes, fears, and plans; reading the Sunday paper. It was just like old times, like it was before the (usually happy) chaos and confusions and constant distractions of parenthood.

If I cannot achieve constant balance in life, at least I am learning to point myself in the right direction. I can be "present." Or, at least, "accounted for."

Jeff's a Protestant Christian by faith, but I've come to think of him as a little bit Buddhist as well. The funny thing is, Buddha Jeff may not even realize how he changed my life with the gift of a few friendly words. He may not even remember it.

Still, it was quite the present.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, the struggle is always to stay in the now. All the "what ifs?" can cause anticipation and anxiety over things that might never happen or are beyond one's control.

    A great post, Sherpa!
    In fact, my excuse for getting no house projects done is I'm in the now. Painting be damned, I can't worry about it.

    By the way, I got a superb email from Tony Vagneur. It was as good as one of his columns.


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