Presence and Waiting

This morning I played cards with my nine-year old daughter. After, we played Concentration, or Memory, or whatever it is called today. She won, so I had to do push ups. Before that, we had reviewed her math and practiced fractions.

I have thought, often, that the two traits I want to bring as a parent are patience and presence. The former is for when my two daughters bicker, or don’t listen, or generally do anything that inconveniences me. The latter is for mornings like today. I need such time with my daughter, while the younger is at gymnastics with her mother. In many ways it was a routine Saturday. But it was also an hour to play. To be present.

The other resonant idea is one of waiting. I read Psalm 130 this morning, that ancient poem where the writer declares that he will wait (assuming the writer was a man in that patriarchal society) more than watchmen wait for the morning.

This waiting: there seems to be few stronger metaphors for life. We live in a waiting place. I think of how I’ve waited this week at my work: on interviews, on timelines outside of my control, on others’ priorities. I flew to Indiana and waited at airports. And I’m the sort of man who is oriented to the future: I am excited by what is next, by what will happen. What is happening is less exciting than the opening of possibility.

For the religious, as I am, this waiting is for the divine to act. But even without religion, we find much of our lives waiting. And in the meantime, we fill our lives with purchases or rich food and drink to forget that there is something to wait for at all.

Good waiting has, according to the ancient poet, an aspect of watching. An aspect of seeing the gradients of light each night, from astronomical dawn to sunrise itself. We watch for the subtle gradations of light and movement. There is, in other words, a presence to it.

Of course, patience is also necessary.

I wait today for a thousand pricks of light to burn into red and reveal the sun itself. I wait for the girls to go to bed so I can watch a movie with my wife. I wait for a new hire on my team to come through, for a trip to Florida we have scheduled, and this morning I waited for my workout to be over. (I lifted weights this morning, or as I prefer to call it: uncomfortable counting.)

The waiting is formed of patience and presence. I think of how these two traits I want to show as a parent may be traits of living a good life. Patience in the divine and slow movement, the unhurried change in the night sky. Presence to remain there, to find places not where I can escape to the internet, a magazine. But to practice math with my daughter and play cards, before she gleefully climbs onto my back and commands me to do push ups as my punishment for losing.

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Cordless: How to be a revolutionary in one phone call

So, we cut our cable on Monday. Really, we canceled Direct TV, but I’m not sure how to quantify that (blocked our satellite feed?). The whole process took about ten minutes, and I almost felt bad for the lady who tried to get me to change my mind. She offered one insignificant price reduction. When I said no, she just went ahead with the cancellation. It’s like she was ready to give up.

Now, like millions of other Americans, or billions of people around the world, or every human who ever lived before roughly 1980, we don’t have cable. It’s really a revolutionary stance we’ve taken.

I already miss Sportscenter.

We talked about how we’ll save money by cancelling, how we’ll probably watch less television, how this move will align us more closely to what we say our priorities are. And that’s a good thing. But we still have the internet, and Netflix, and I still have more entertainment options than 99% of anyone who’s ever lived.

But what this move is, and what my conversations with my wife about it were about, is a move toward intentionality. I want to be intentional when I sit down in front of a screen, because sitting in front of a screen is a move that often reduces relationship. Yes, there are great things about what our screens can do, but there are terrible things, as well. And while I could rail about pornography or the sad nature of comments on any given article, I think the most practical problem that screens bring is a removal from those around us, a removal from those we’re communicating with. Even now, through this website, the pixels you read are a sad substitute (I hope) for my unkempt hair and unshaven face (I’m on vacation). They are easy.

Relationships are not so easy. They are harder, and they require us to do things that we sometimes don’t want to do. But they are also infinitely better.

Last night, with the television off, my four-year old and I kicked a small beach ball around the house. We chased after it, diving over each other; it bounced off the couch and the table and under the tree; my daughter giggled with a naive beauty. It had been a hard day, and she’s going through a phase where she pushes us on most of what we say, which I realize is also a good thing in the long view.

But we needed time to giggle.

Perhaps this is how revolutions start. With a yearning. With a step, however small. So we step, completely aware of our continued dependence on screens, even the goodness of screens. But we step to offer our presence to each other, to engage, to dive on the floor after a beach ball.