Sometimes the most cherished moments I have had with people in my life have been ones where we hardly spoke at all but simply shared a moment.This post is one I shared on father’s day to my mother – sometimes (all the time?) presence is the greatest gift we can give to anyone.
Inhale, exhale: sometimes that’s hard to do
When I was 7 my father died and soon after I started having asthma attacks in the middle of the night around 2am. And every night my mother would sit there with me, soothing me with her voice and letting me know that no matter how long it took – and this I understood not from the words that she said, but from the feeling that I got from her body and the way that she sat there steady and soft – that she would be there for me, for as long as it took, until I could breathe again and fall asleep.
And in doing so my mother gave to me that thing we all crave – whether we are child or adult – presence. And yet I think we get confused sometimes and think oh maybe we’re not enough, so off we go and buy someone something, thinking yes it’s a present they want, not me, yes it’s the present they want, or maybe two or three.
Years later my mother and brother came on a Vipassana course with me in Wales. These retreats can be incredibly challenging – you are meditating for up for 10hours a day, in silence till day 9 – and this includes no eye contact or hugs. The idea being that in order to cultivate your ability to focus and begin to know your mind, our outer distractions need to be diminished.
The first time I did a course by day 2 I was contemplating doing a runner. It wasn’t the no talking I found challenging – that was actually a bit of a relief for me – it was the not being able to hug or laugh with someone which I found unbearably lonely.
Fast forward to the course that I was on with my mother and brother which they had come on as a birthday gift to me and there I am one day – around day 3 of the course – and I walk into the dining room after lunch and see my mother sitting alone at one of the tables. Seeing her there made me want to go over to her and be with her. So I went over to the counter and made her a cup of tea before squeezing onto the bench beside her and silently pushing the mug over to her.
Though my mother didn’t turn to look at me, I could feel something in her beam. And as we sat there in silence, not having much else to do, I relished this opportunity to just sit with my mum – no words needed – and be there for her, just as she has been there for me throughout my life. And actually most poignantly and significantly when all I have needed, or what I have needed most, was presence. Just as she had given me during those asthmatic nights with us sitting on my bed, leaning against the pillows.
And then here we were again, sharing a moment without words or explanations, just two bodies sitting side-by-side in total harmony. And because nothing in either of us was trying to make something happen, we just got to sit and be.
The Benefits of Tea
When she finished her tea, we sat for a moment longer – the both of us still looking in the same direction. Then I smiled at my mum and although she couldn’t see my face, I know she could feel my smile.
Then I got up and went outside. Something in me wanting to go walk by the trees and under the skies. Because sometimes things happen that touch us so much that we can only offer them to the world around us and say thank you. Because it’s a crazy trip this thing being alive. And most of the time I am running about and so busy but then every now and again there is a moment when a bit of humanity trickles in and I wonder: what more can we really ask for?
(And Mum, on Father’s day this story is for you: for being both a mother and a father to Charlie and I. You are irreplaceable).