I keep reading for a couple reasons. One reason is that I am inherently curious. I like to read what other people think and what they are doing. While not all people are interesting, there are a million out there who are interesting. When they write, I get to join them and see how they are interesting. The second reason I keep reading is the fear that I’ll miss something if I don’t read! While this might seem like a negative reason, I would argue it as only a different way of putting forth my curiosity. When I quit reading, I will know that I have lost interest in life and in myself. Life, as I know it, will be finished.
I was reading the newspaper online the other day. I noticed an intriguing headline: “The Myth of Quality Time.” I was grabbed. The author, Frank Bruni, writes for the New York Times and other outlets. I usually read the stuff he writes because it is interesting. But this one seems particularly luring. I know how often people use the phrase, “quality time.” I wanted to get his take on it. I was not disappointed.
The essay begins with Bruni talking about his large family---more than twenty---trying to find a beach house each summer for a week. When he was younger, he confessed that a week in this chaos was too much. He would come a day or two late or, perhaps, sneak off a bit early. But he has learned that is a mistake. He says, “in recent years, I’ve shown up at the start and stayed for the duration, and I’ve noticed a difference.” It is that difference that makes all the difference!
He argues that there is no way to guess if someone will share something important. He might miss something from a nephew, when a sibling will open up or, even, when his dad will make an offhand comment that is a game-changer. If you are not there, you will only get it second-hand or miss out completely. As Bruni says, “There’s simply no real substitute for physical presence. I love that line. It is a powerful truth.
He develops his logic in a way that I feel convinced. He comments, “We delude ourselves when we say otherwise, when we invoke and venerate ‘quality time,’ a shopworn phrase with a debatable promise: that we can plan instances of extraordinary candor, plot episodes of exquisite tenderness, engineer intimacy in an appointed hour.” I find it hard to argue with him on this score. It provokes me to think about myself.
He carries on and I can do no better than to share his words. He adds, “…people tend not to operate on cue. At least our moods and emotions don’t. We reach out for help at odd points; we bloom at unpredictable ones. The surest way to see the brightest colors, or the darkest ones, is to be watching and waiting and ready for them.” Three words in this quotation jump out at me: watching, waiting and ready.
That sounds like the recipe for being present. I see the spiritual in these words. In fact, for years I have used words like these to talk about being contemplative. To be contemplative is not some sophisticated zone. To be contemplative is to live life watchfully. It is linked to awareness. It is the opposite of being “zoned out.” It is a practical way of being present.
I like how Bruni talks about it using the example of lovers, but it really works for countless other relationships. He avows “that sustained proximity is the best route to the soul of someone; that unscripted gestures at unexpected junctures yield sweeter rewards…” That quotation has given me a new way to think about being present. Being present is a form of “sustained proximity.” That certainly describes the physical. I also think it can describe the emotional and the spiritual.
To be in a sustained proximate relationship with someone enables me to be sensitive and being sensitive leads me to be more caring and, when needed, even compassionate. And being in this sustained proximate relationship with the Spirit of God will allow for a more connected sense with the Holy One. And this more connected sense should lead to deeper communion with that same God who nurtures each and every one of us.
Bruni has a simple, but profound, way of ending the essay. He says these weeklong ventures make him more likely to get the most out of what happens and not to miss anything. It is because he is present. Things happen and he is part of those things simply because he is present. As he says, “It’s because I was there.” I love the profundity of that line: “because I was there.”
It makes me cringe when I think about important times I know happened and I was absent---I was not there. Sometimes it was for a good reason. More often than not, it was for some stupid, maybe selfish reason that I was not there. And I missed something---sometimes something significant, sometimes something small, sometimes something spiritual. But I missed it. My spiritual vow is to be able to say at least I was there.