On being present
This week was crammed full of school, work, and long days away from home. But today I got to hang out with Remy while Tom taught his morning class. Even though I needed to be reading or writing this blog post or networking on campus, I sat on the floor with Remy. While I folded his diapers, he unfolded them. While I sat back and spotted him from a safe distance, he climbed on the furniture like a monkey. While I was picking up his toys, he got caught in the bottom shelf of the bookcase (I really wish I had taken a picture of that one). While I was feeling overwhelmed (and, to be honest, throwing myself a tiny pity party of one), Remy fell down.
He was trying to swing from the chair to the couch so he could reach something in the middle of the end table. A bin of his toys was turned over on the floor and was preventing him from getting close enough to the table to reach what he wanted. He cried – loudly – for a moment, and I reached out for him. I was sure he would want to be cuddled. I thought he would want to give up on this (clearly impossible) endeavor and everything else. But I was wrong.
First, he noticed something interesting on the ground near where he had fallen. He picked up what looked like nothing but was probably fuzz. He turned it over and tried to eat it. It was interesting, but unsatisfying. Then he noticed the bin of toys. He grasped the handle and shook it around. He tried to eat it. Then he noticed the toys inside. He pulled them out, one by one. He tried to eat them. He threw them to see how far they would go. He laughed that crazy, maniacal laugh that babies have. Only then did he look around to see if I was near by and watching him – to see if I could believe his amazing good fortune.
Friends, I wish I could tell you that at that moment I let go of my anxiety and learned something valuable about being present. I did not.
Before long, Remy went down for his nap. A mere 30 minutes later, he woke up, inconsolable. Tom was due to be home at any moment and I was late for work. After nothing else worked, I used my secret weapon (breast milk, of course). On the positive side: he calmed down. On the negative side: it took a while. I forgot to pack myself a lunch. I negligently did not fill up my nearly-empty gas tank last night. And then, friends, then there was a train.
Trains are not unusual around here. I’ve been stopped by them before. We can hear one every morning as it runs through the East end of town. But I had never even noticed the train crossing at this particular place. It was as if this train had heard that I was late and decided to bravely forge a new path through fields and streets. It was infuriating. It was the longest train I had ever seen.
About ten minutes into my tiny temper tantrum, I remembered my morning with Remy, and the way that he had taken advantage of his little fall to discover something new. I thought about how he was totally and completely present in each moment, taking full advantage of the opportunities that it offered. I thought about his maniacal laugh. And I thought about how this train was going to continue being the longest f-ing train in the history of the West wether I was mad about it or not. And I was going to be late, had been late for at least an hour at this point, and a few more minutes were not going to matter much.
So I looked at the train. I looked at all the different kinds of cars and the way the wheels worked with the sunken tracks. I looked at all the wonderful variations of graffiti. I thought about all the colors, and how long each tag would have taken, and what risks each artist took to leave their mark. I thought about the messages that were clear and the message that were more obtuse. When an unmarked car passed by, I wondered at its pure, virgin beauty, and considered what I would want to spray across its sides.
I want you to know that my magical transport to serenity was short lived. That train still took for-ever to pass. I was still a bit grumpy about being late and having no lunch. I still feel overwhelmed about the semester ahead of me. I am still not sure how, exactly, I will get everything done. But I feel just a little better about things. I am paying just a little better attention. I will forget again soon, I am sure. But something tells me that Remy will remind me. He’s still not very good at standing, and he falls down a lot.