An elderly woman recently spent a long night in the Emergency Department. Lack of oxygen, related to congestive heart failure and COPD, made her disoriented and unsettled. Because her medical caregivers needed to know the extent of her confusion, they repeatedly asked her, “Do you know where you are? Can you tell us where you are?” Over and over again, from the fog of oxygen deprivation and weakness, she answered: “I’m here. I’m right here.”
Several days after that difficult night in the E.D., my friend and I shared a good laugh over her answer: it wasn’t the right answer for the context, but it was true. I told her that, most of the time, I have to work really hard to be “here, right here.”
It’s not easy to be here, especially now. “I” am not always fully where my body is; and, too often, I lag-behind or race-ahead of the present moment. It’s all-too-easy to be elsewhere than here and absent from this moment.
Part of it is the pace of life. More than I like to admit, I’m either hurrying or dragging, hurrying when I’ve agreed to do too much and dragging when I’ve exhausted myself by keeping the agreements. When I speed, I rush past here; when I trudge, I never fully arrive.
Sometimes to show-up, I need to slow down; other times, I need to rest-up.
Regret and anxiety interfere with now–regret for what wasn’t and anxiety over what might be. Now isn’t visible or audible in reverse or fast-forward.
Occasionally, here is bewildering and painful, so that my mind and heart don’t really want to be present. It’s not uncommon for people who undergo severe trauma—rape, warfare, other kinds of abuse—to dissociate as a means of self-preservation.
Such extremes aren’t the only “here and now” experiences we’d rather avoid. Four years ago this summer, during a stem cell transplant to treat cancer, I was so sick, sick to the edge of death, that there were hours when I disconnected as much as I could from the experience. I was there but not there.
Maybe it’s just me, but the jangling, clanging, tweeting, pinging, maddening, demeaning, and alarming noise of our culture tempts me to go numb and to drop out. Sometimes, I think that’s what the powers-that-be hope everyone who might object to their harshness and cruelty will do. It seems like a strategy:
Overwhelm here and now with lost causes, cheap resentments, cherished illusions, petty grievances, fabricated slights, shadowy fears, and empty promises so that people simply lose the will to stay involved—unless it is the extreme involvement of irrational violence. Distract people from seeing what is, mislead them about where they are, and interfere with their listening—instead of reacting—to each other. Keep them from being present for and with each other.
It’s not easy to be here, not now. But, not being here and in the now is empty and even perilous.
So, many times each day, I pray to remind and reorient myself: “You are here. I am here. We are one.” Most mornings, I sit in my grandfather’s rocking chair, stay as still as I can manage, notice my breath, and let my breath become a partaking of the Spirit.I constantly reaffirm (because I ceaselessly doubt) my trust that there is One who holds all time in the Eternal Now and invites me to step into that timely timelessness—the ever-present Presence of love.