Being Present–Even When You’d Rather Not

A book came across my virtual desk today that I can’t resist writing about. It’s aimed at kids, but like the best of children’s literature, its deceptively simple message spans ages and cultures. And it’s told in such a charming and delightful way you forget you’re reading a kid’s book. It’s just a beautifully illustrated book, and a wise one at that.

What’s the book? What Does It Mean to Be Present? by Rana DiOrio with illustrations by Eliza Wheeler. It’s part of a series from Little Pickle Press, an independent kids’ book publisher with a straightforward mission I can get behind:

Little Pickle Press is dedicated to helping parents and educators cultivate conscious, responsible little people by stimulating explorations of the meaningful topics of their generation through a variety of media, technologies, and techniques.

Seems to me that we big people can benefit from this mission, especially the part about cultivating conscious, responsible lives.

What Does It Mean to Be Present? asks just that question: “What does it mean to be present?”

“Does it mean showing up in class?” it asks, with an illustration of two girls racing up the steps to a school with the bell ringing. “No.”

“Does it mean sharing something in show & tell? No.”‘

“Does it mean wrapping yourself up? NO!” (You’ll love the illustration for this one!)

The rest of the book is devoted to showing what being present does mean: listening, noticing, focusing, appreciating, waiting, understanding that growing means making mistakes, being grateful, savoring, cuddling, being still and listening to your inner voice… (That last one’s a great illustration, too.)

Here’s the text that really struck me:

“Being present means living in the moment.
It means realizing that…
Tomorrow is a mystery
Yesterday is history
Today is a gift–that’s why we call it the present!”

My present is the reality of Richard’s brain cancer, with his second round of brain surgery coming up in less than two weeks. Being present with the possibility that despite surgery last October, radiation over the winter holidays, and five months of intensive chemotherapy, a tumor may be growing deep in his brain. is not easy. Being present with the possibility that the mass spotted in his recent MRI might not be operable, the surgery might injure his brain, or he simply might not live long is hard. Really hard. Excruciatingly hard sometimes. But, as I say frequently, this reality is what we have. 

The alternative–to not be present–is to miss the moments we share.

So here’s the moment where I live: He’s sitting beside me, typing something on his laptop as I write this blog post. He looks great, and he feels good, if a mite tired because it’s past our bedtime and we’re not quite finished preparing to leave for another few days of our residency at The Nature Conservancy’s Carpenter Ranch first thing tomorrow. When I look over at him, he smiles. In that moment, I have everything I need.

That’s what it means to be present. And I’ll tell you from this searingly difficult experience, it’s the only way to live, whether or not you’re walking hand-in-hand through a journey like ours with his brain cancer. The present is all we have, and it’s enough–more than enough some days. But I still wouldn’t trade it.

Thanks to Little Pickle Press, and Rana DiOrio and Eliza Wheeler for the wise and sweet reminder of that. 

BTW, you can follow the blog book tour for What Does It Mean to Be Present?. It’s run by Dani Greer, the Queen of Blog Book Tours herself…