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Kittredge: The Gift Of Presence

Jane Kittredge
Sometimes the best gift is not about how much money you spend, but about how much time and attention you spend.

When I turned 40 I started two routines that somewhat eased my mind. First, I began to wear make-up. Second, I started buying myself birthday presents before my birthday.

The gifts weren’t big or extravagant, just treats I really wanted. Often it was a lesson of some sort: skate skiing or clogging or Pimsleur Spanish lessons. Perhaps a nice strainer or hat or book. This took pressure off my family, at least in my mind. I was never again disappointed at my birthday and always able to enjoy the day whatever it did - or did not - bring.

As we approach a season entwined with commercialism and set within a culture of friction and discord, I’ve decided that I need to start a new practice to stay sane. Rainer Maria Rilke once said, “If you will stay close to nature, to its simplicity, to the small things hardly noticeable, those things can unexpectedly become great and immeasurable.”

Each day I let something in nature claim me; I try not to go looking for it but rather let it find me, and inevitably it does. What’s required is an intentional focus on the present, on the spot where one’s foot falls, on the moment in time burdened neither by the weight of the past nor anxiety for the future. So the unwillingness of the blackened frost burned leaves atop naked hydrangea branches to fall submissively to the ground like good little leaves, reminds me of tenacity in the face of hardship and I wonder what is the stalk, the mast to which I cling - even stubbornly?

On a recent Sunday at the Charlotte Congregational Church as we began rehearsals for our Christmas pageant, I stood in a circle with 36 small children, some of whom were almost as anxious as I; many were new and more than a few entirely disinterested and fidgety. I wondered how I could ever keep them happy and engaged. Then a small, sticky hand shyly grasped mine and looking down, I saw a little three-year-old girl I didn’t know looking up at me. “Can I sit on your lap?” she whispered.

“Yes, thank you,” I replied and gratefully sat down in that quiet moment of presence.

Susan Cooke Kittredge is Associate Pastor of the Charlotte Congregational Church.
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