I am reading, and reading…and not present

I am reading, and reading…and not present June 1, 2007

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.”

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