I am reading, and reading…and not present

Sorry to be so quiet, but I have some serious reading to do on the cash-money paying side – galleys, book reviews and the like – a girl’s gotta make a living! I hope to have a round-up later, some more thoughts on the difference between monastic communalism and communism, with an interesting irony thrown in, and – if I can manage it – some thoughts too on President Bush and the Far Right…so please be sure to check back in a bit!

Or, in the meantime…as I cannot be “present” to you, perhaps it’s a good time to consider what it really means to be “present” to someone.

A perplexed and child-less correspondent recently emailed me looking for a little advice on how to deal with a 12 year old boy – not a family member, but clearly needing some sort of approving “family” relationship – who has been put in his path. This writer’s kindly instincts, it was discovered, were simply not enough…there grew that whole tricky question of “how much” one is willing to give over of oneself to another…and yes, it is tricky. Here is an excerpt of my reply:

My husband is a boy scout leader…he encounters boys like this all the time, whose parents are indifferent, whom the rest of the leaders and kids find a little more work than they’d like him to be. He just treats such kids the way he would like to be treated. Sometimes they respond to that and blossom, learning to trust other people and themselves, and then – when they’ve blossomed – they become more interesting. Sometimes they remain diffident and rather flat, and no, that’s not enjoyable. Then you simply remain kind. You don’t have to love him. All you have to do is respect him and treat him with a little of that Atticus Finchian “polite detachment” I wrote about a few days ago.

My understanding of the Christ-concept of “love” (as in “love your enemies”) is not that we have to “loooooove” everyone, but that we simply wish them wish them no evil and put no limitations before them on their journey. If you can do that for this boy, plus give him a little bit of respect and regard from an adult (guess what that means if he declares he likes someone/something you don’t you can’t tell him he’s nuts; he gets respect for his opinions, even if you hate them) you’ll be doing good.

Last summer there was a new boy in the troop, a shy kid no one knew well, and he was away at the summer camp for the first time. He could not allow himself to move his bowels and by about the 4th day he was feeling awful. This, of course, was a manifestation of him being “bound up,” with anxiety and shyness, insecurity, etc. When my husband discovered why the kid wasn’t feeling well, he went to our son, who was the Senior Patrol Leader (hence the boy in charge of seeing that the other boys comported themselves well, worked together etc). Our son took charge of the situation. He talked to the kid, convinced him to go to the latrines (or portajohns or whatever they used) and then while the boy was inside, he corralled several other boys into sitting outside and talking, laughing, joking with and even singing to the boy. Finally, success! they got him to “loosen up” and “let go” a little and the body followed. And the kid managed to get through the rest of the week with no problems and a sense of humor. He’s “blossoming” in the troop this year, and is well-regarded.

Another boy, a few years earlier…[was not an easy boy to like, let's put it that way, but he's a very accomplished young man, now]…His parents recently got in touch with my husband to thank him for being so kind to the kid because it had “made all the difference.” My husband was at a loss, because in his mind he had done nothing at all out of the ordinary for the kid – he just treated him in a friendly manner and respected the things the kid said; he allowed the boy to be who he was, in his presence.

Honestly, I think that’s all most people want, most of the time – for someone to simply be present to them, and to take them as they are. It sounds simple. It is not. It takes a measure of selflessness, of realizing that it’s “not about you.”

“Being present” is a very Christlike thing to do, for Christ is always “present” to us – immediately – if we wish to know it.

Of course, from a Christian perspective, I try (and sadly fail all too often) to consider why someone has been put in my path – what am I supposed to get from this exchange, what is this person supposed to get from me (because in every encounter we both take and leave something). As a Benedictine I am charged to “see Christ” in the person before me. It’s one of those things that sounds really easy. It’s not. When it’s not, I recall two quotes, and I’ve used them both in my blog:

1) Be kind, because everyone you meet is engaged in great battle.
2) Every evil in the world can be traced back to one great driving force within a person, the need to scream out, “I am GOOD.”

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • lsusportsfan

    I will be back to check in for sure. Hearing a segment of the party declaring war on the GOP if it doesnt get its way on everything os depressing

  • http://www.spiritualthingsmatter.com Viola Jaynes

    I think you hit the nail on the head. When one realizes it’s not about you but about someone else, it is amazing how much wisdom will surface to deal with other human beings. Hats off to your husband for being a very kind and carring person.

  • Bender B. Rodriguez

    You don’t have to love him.
    Yes you do. An otherwise good response to the question, but you do have to love him — love as it truly is, which is basically what you have otherwise described — you just don’t have to like him. As you suggest, “love” as it truly is, love in its highest and purest form is not “luv” or warm, squishy feelings. It is not “loooove” or sitting in trees or kissing. Love in its truest sense — the love we are commanded to extend to God and neighbor — is the conscious decision to give of oneself and unselfishly and unconditionally seek the good of the other, and that is basically what you describe. Love is not a feeling, it is not a quid pro quo, it is not something that “just happens,” it is not even necessarily wanting the other to feel happy, if that is inconsistent with good.
    Love is a choice and volitional activity, and thus it is possible for Jesus to command that we love. However, “liking” and enjoying a particular person are not choices that we have control of, they are feelings, and thus it is not required that we actually like those we are required to love (although if we practice truly loving, it does become a little easier to like even obnoxious and unlikable 12-year-olds).

  • http://jscafenette.com Jeanette

    You know, A, somehow I just knew your husband is a sweetie just like mine! :)

    Some great advice you gave your correspondent.

    Jesus told us to love our enemies, knowing our human side would fail us, but He showed us when they came to get Him every single time right up to his crucifixion.

    I can’t love everyone as I love my children, but it is my duty as a Christian to try, and it seems you also try.

    I always knew there is a special reason I like you so much. You just have such good common sense and you love our Lord. What a great combination!

  • SueC

    One of the current concepts in counseling, especially for children,is resiliency. The dictionary describes the word as “the ability of matter to spring back quickly into shape after being bent, stretched, or deformed”. The current sense is that even children who come from chaotic homes, destructive environments or traumatic experiences can find their way back to a more normal existence because of a comment, action or connection to someone who cared enough to reach out and be kind especially when it was least expected.

    However.I have often thought that these events are not a one way process. I’m sure that your son and husband both felt the blessing return to them when they realized that their efforts had been successful. So…there are no accidents, just those who fail to rise to the opportunity…

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