BY DAMIEN BRENNAN
Our presence to others can be a both an affirming and a challenging thing. Sometimes we are ‘in the zone’, aware of and engaging well with others.
At other times the distractions of life, or the many gadgets we carry with us, can mean we are more present to those in cyber space than people more immediate to us. Or we can be just plain tired or grumpy some days.
I have been thinking much about presence as we embark upon moving from our family home and neighbourhood of the past 23, very happy years.
We are not moving far, about twenty minutes away, to a small acreage property that will enable my wife to develop further her organic food and horticulture business. It is an exciting development, one we have been working towards for many years.
We have looked at more than 150 properties during the past eighteen months. But we are realists and we know that there will be some grieving as we move from the very familiar and from our friendly and supportive neighbours.
There are also the considerations of parish involvement and worship after we move, an additional aspect for those of us still trying to stay connected to a Church community.
It is so important for many of us to also find a spiritual home and a community of challenge and support. I hope we don’t have to explore 150 of them! We might yet decide to commute to our current parish. Who knows what we might find out there?
Co-incidentally, we are purchasing from a gracious elderly couple who, 20 years ago, moved from two streets away from our current home. As one of my mentors used exclaim about such things, ‘Synchronicity is everywhere!’ Sadly, the wife has advancing Alzheimer’s disease and they need to leave their much-loved property and move to a more high care situation. This has provided a sobering perspective to what some couples face.
We have started working our way through decades of accumulated stuff, some which is extremely important; such as my long dead parents’ lounge suite that they bought in Geelong when they married in 1936.
And there are other totems of less importance such as a seemingly endless supply of books, documents and articles that I have collected over the years because, ‘I might need to refer to them in a presentation or an article one day.’
It still remains a challenge deciding about these once vitally important attachments. Of course there are no such questions to be asked about plant species that will move with us from my wife’s abundant and productive edible organic garden!
Even the collection of our children’s teddy bears and soft toys had to be brought into the equation – do they move with us or not? We discussed this at one of our Sunday evening family meals and displayed them for all to examine. Our 25-year-old son could not see them leave our family and rescued them from their probable St Vinnies fate. They are all now ensconced at his place, for he said, ‘They have been like people to us in our childhood.’
The presence and imagination of childhood can be re-awakened at times like this – other markers of our life journey can come to the fore and re-engage us with moments or tokens of significance. In being present to ourselves we need to also honour our past and those people and situations that have impacted upon us positively.
A sense of reality can also bring temperance to our thoughts about those people, situations and times of disappointment from the past that we are better served to jettison, as best we can, if we are to move forward positively.
We need to be present to ourselves if we are to be present to others in a more engaged manner. Clearing through the stuff we have accumulated, mental or physical, can assist this.
The other aspect of moving is selling. At our real estate agent’s direction we have de-cluttered. Our home appears now as a pristine display house with many of our artefacts, such as the photos of our forbears, removed from their places of honour. We know that our home will sell, but we are living like we have not done for most of our lives. We already have some stuff packed away at two of our children’s places as a result of this direction to look like a house in a glossy magazine instead of a home. It’s all a bit false really. Maybe it is part of the process of becoming less present to this home and becoming more present to the journey ahead.
All of this brings me to another aspect of presence, those rituals that assist us to put life into perspective.
This is an important part of our current transition, as we will be challenged to develop new rituals in a new place. For example, moving further from the CBD, which we rarely visit these days as we both work from our home office, will entail new routes or different public transport options and require a longer journey time. We will need to find new doctors and chemists, engage with new neighbours and possibly reconsider if our Sunday evening ritual meal will continue to be convenient to all, especially for my 86 year-old mother in law.
I cannot help but think that Jesus and the Gospel writers had a profound insight about such rituals and our presence to each other in and through them. When we do break bread and drink wine we so often bring our current stories to the fore and might bring to the present moment times of significance from the past that are vital. So often many of our family rituals are ‘in memory of’, be they visiting a parent’s grave, remembering and honouring a loved one’s birthday, celebrating our anniversaries.
That the Catholic Church has worked through and proclaimed this ‘in memory of’ in the Eucharist to be a ‘real presence’ is a powerful reminder that our rituals can signify much more than their actions. They can be more than a trip down memory lane.
On that day we finally drive away from our current home, we will take many memories with us, as we start afresh on the next phase of our life journey in new surrounds. We will need to be present to those moments in order to take them into our future.
In time, stories associated with this transition might become a real presence in our family’s story, shared in and through our meals and our gatherings and especially when we break bread and share wine. This place we currently call home is significant to all in our family…and we are moving on.
Let’s hope that these moments of transition might also be pointers to that more significant ‘real presence’ from our larger Christian memory and through its continuing renewal of life in and through Jesus.
Perhaps it is in our families and in trying to connect our simple rituals with such larger ones that new evangelisation might find some initial fertile soil.
Being present to the moment and to others can be such a challenge – and it is vital.
Damien F. Brennan is a consultant and writer and provides leadership development services primarily to education, welfare, Church and not-for profit sectors.
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