It’s Tuesday evening. I’m at home. Ana is over at the nursing home, being with Sylvia, her mom, who is in her last days.
If you’ve followed this blog for a while you might remember Sylvia. I wrote about an experience she shared with me once here, and again when she first went into the hospital, more than four years ago, here.
Over the past four years we have had hours of conversation, shared dozens and dozens of books (Sylvia is a ravenous reader), and she and Ana have unpacked entire luggage stores’ worth of suitcases stuffed to overflowing with memories and reminiscences. But the time for reading books has turned its last page, and the energy for conversation has dimmed.
What Sylvia needs right now is not someone to sit and talk to her, but someone simply to sit by her bed, hold her hand, and be fully present.
In her twenties Ana was a professional dancer who performed internationally with a dance company. Dancing came easy to her, but counting did not. According to her, she had a really tough time keeping the math running on those beats. Fortunately for her, she was able to compensate for what could have been a fatal handicap: while she may have been weak at counting the steps as she danced, she was strong at being present to the rhythm of the music—and in dance, the movement is only as powerful as its relationship to the music.
It’s not about count, but about flow.
It’s about being present with the movement of the dance.
This is what she’s doing right now. Being present with the movement of the dance.
Being present is such a valuable thing. Not just in dance, and not only when sitting with someone at the cusp of laying this life down and opening the first chapter of a new one. It’s useful every day.
“Life is available only in the present moment,” writes Thich Nhat Hanh in Taming the Tiger Within. Or to put it another way: if you’re busy counting the beats, you might miss it altogether.
I don’t know if you’ve ever spent time with someone who is very close to the end of their life, but if you have, you may have noticed that things seem to become extremely simple. There’s not a lot of fussing about the past or fretting about the future, because there simply isn’t room. The present moment is so freighted with the enormity of the fact that we’re here at last, at the point where the string meets the knot.
The truth is, though, that it was always that simple, and is always that simple. Taking a small sip of water, giving a slight pressure to the hand holding yours, saying “I love you” once again (either in words or simply a smile of the eyes), is an enormity of the moment.
I’ll try to remember that, every day, and think of it as a gift from Sylvia: being present with the movement of the dance.