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In Sight of Ourselves: 9. Presence (December 14, 2001)

Presence. The word could mean one of two things. First, during the holidays we think of presents as gifts we provide and receive. In the vast majority of cases, they are purchased, not made. Some presents we receive are useful. That power tool could come in handy. A fine piece of lace could become a family treasure. Other gifts are less useful. The pumpkin tie from our boss will eventually find its place in the dust in the back of our closet.

Of course, children love presents too. They watch television. Their choices are more dependent on fad impulses than quality and longevity. The battery-operated baby that eats and poops may lose most of its glamour in a week or less. Quality gifts like Lego Blocks, Lincoln Logs, and Gerber dolls may not have the jazz of some other fancy toys. They have lasting power, though, because of their creative and playful potential. We enjoy giving presents to our children because their smiles and laughter enrich our lives.

The word "presence" can have a dramatically different meaning though, as a referent to "being near, being here." To be present, to be aware and involved, is the opposite of being distracted. Presence is probably the best gift we can give children at any time of the year.

Money cannot buy our presence. That can only be purchased with the most precious currency of all: our time and our hearts. To be present for a child is to give something of ourselves. This gift is ultimately more precious to our children than what we buy and wrap.

This holiday season, or any joyful event for that matter, consider the power of combining both meanings of the word. Add your presence to your presents. Maybe investing ourselves in the gifts we offer makes the gift more special. We might play with our children to build the tinker toy structure or a model airplane. We might have tea parties or play board games with them. We might sit close and read them stories. Our presence is a gift too, and children should always take the lead. Being present means being childlike, not being pushy and in control. Being present is an opportunity to share an experience with a child.

If presence is invested in our presents, then when children see those tinker toys, dolls, and plastic models they will look beyond the wood, the cloth, and the plastic to find our love for them invested in every one. Such a gift has the power to transcend time and build memories to last throughout life.

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