Remember back in your school days when you’d hear that a substitute teacher was coming the next day? Or you’d arrive at school and while making your way to class, you’d hear that Mrs. Whoever was absent, and a sub had come instead?
For me, that announcement brought forth simultaneous giddiness and dread. Giddiness, because it was likely we’d play a game, skip a test, or just simply get some homework done. But the dread came when I thought about two particular boys in my grade. I knew that any substitute teacher would be viewed as fresh meat and a new target for their antics. My sixth-grade mind and soul were pre-terrorized on the sub’s behalf.
Now, in my adult mind and soul, I totally get that Mrs. Sub might not have been bothered by it. She probably even expected it. There is a slight possibility she was privately entertained by it. Nevertheless, I felt the dread to my play-by-the-rules core.
The day would invariably begin with roll call. Britt and Tim (names changed, but if you went to Hillcrest Elementary in Dublin, GA, when I did, you know who I’m talking about) would, of course, answer when their names were called by loudly, and with fake manly voices (since they were sure that would speed up their voices actually changing) proclaim, “President!” Usually, it was downhill from there, but I can’t help but think back to that when I think about “being present.”
There is a big difference between being somewhere and actually “being present.” I know this firsthand because I have the innate ability to be somewhere and not really be present. I can hyper-focus at my computer or on a project and not even be aware that someone else is in the room. In fact, I’ve been accused of having a “conversation” while doing something else and later not even realizing that I had spoken to someone. Crazy . . . I know you can’t relate.
What I’ve learned, the hard way, obviously, is that being truly present brings richness to life that simple project accomplishment never does. Hearing about a family member’s day, engaging with his humor, or having an opportunity to speak life-giving words is a far better return on my time investment than checking some meaningless things off my “to do” list.
So, for my progress-loving, task-accomplishing, “to do” list-managing brain, I’m constantly retraining my tendencies: stop, make eye contact, and engage. I’m ever renewing my mind to the fact that the days are furiously fleeting, and these relationships are far worthier of my tending than some list that will soon be forgotten. Sandra Stanley? “Present!” or “President!” Hahahaha . . .