In the Scheme of Things: Being With Others

In this month of hearts and proclamations of love, something that happened a decade ago, captured like a digital photo with its image held in my memory until called up, was triggered for me by an observation on a recent wintry weekend.

While waiting for our lunch order to arrive, I noticed a mother and teen daughter, seated at an adjacent table, attempting a conversation. The daughter started to tell her mother about school, but with each holding a cell phone and responding to incoming sounds and vibrations, the conversation was frequently paused. Eventually their attempt at conversing stopped, replaced with phone immersion by both as they quietly ate their salads

That brief encounter triggered a memory I didn’t know was stored, about me and my mother at our breakfast table. At the time, we were living in Montana and my mother, then in her late 80s, spent summers with us. Like a movie trailer, the memory offered a glimpse of me cajoling, enticing, encouraging, and coaxing her to take her pills so I could get to my “real work.” Lyrics from a Stephen Stills song, performed by Crosby, Stills, and Nash, “love the one you’re with,” played with a different take in my mind from the song’s intended theme.

The snapshot is clear that I wasn’t particularly engaged, nor loving. I was annoyed at how much time the pill taking was stealing from my morning; distracted and anxious to move to “more important” things. I certainly wasn’t with the person I was with.

My memories of breakfasts that summer aren’t the best. And yet despite, or maybe because of, my annoyed actions at the time, I treasure them and the mirror they offer to me about me back then. As I write this, my mother is 97, has dementia and is cared for in a nursing facility. What would I give now to have my mom just know me, or be able to talk and laugh with me, or even fight her pill taking again with me?

What snapshot memories are you creating in your everyday life with those who matter most to you? It’s taken years for me to realize that the more I’m in doing-mode, the less I’m in connecting-mode. The more I fill in what a friend calls “the white spaces of life,” the more I miss those real-living parts. And the more I engage in what doesn’t matter, the more I misplace what does.

What I remember most in my life, what touches me most, are times of authentic connection, deep presence, and heartfelt caring. What I’ve learned in six decades is this: Life isn’t measured by notches in a brag belt or thousands of completed to-do lists, it’s not measured in serial phone conversations, rampant texting, Facebook shares, or Instagram posts, nor is it experienced by mastering the art of simultaneous living.

Rather, in the scheme of things, life is measured in love that’s shared; in discovering and practicing the joy and gift of engaged living and connected being. Life is about showing up in the deepest sense; and it’s about being with those we love and care about.

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