Being There

March 25, 2014

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.


  1. Art Manville

    What a beautiful message. And Ana bringing her state of peace rather than pain to that moment makes everything easier for her and her mom. We send her our love. Would love to have another glass of wine with you guys some day.

  2. Rob

    I’m so sorry to hear this. My thoughts and prayers are with the 3 of you. I know it has been a long road and I know that Sylvia has had the 2 of the most dedicated and loving people I know by her side.

    The gift from Sylvia is one that everyone can and should take to heart.

  3. Margret McBride

    John, knowing you and Ana as long as I have, I can say that very few people are as fortunate to have a daughter and son-in-law as attentive, thoughtful and loving as the two of you have been over these years of Sylvia’s illness.

    You and Ana remind me of my friend, Will Schwalbe, who wrote a book about his relationship with his mom called “The End of Your Life Book Club.” In the last few years of his mom’s life they turned the times they were together into a book club. What’s nice about the book is that no matter if you have read the book they discuss or not, you get an insight into the book and what they thought about it and ultimately their special relationship.

    Ana’s and your relationship with Sylvia is something that has no known bounds of love and caring. You and Ana have traveled thousands of miles to be there for Sylvia. That kind of caring is very unique to the kind of lives many live, however, with you and Ana there are never any excuses nor regrets with anyone with whom you have a relationship. You are there. You give your all. 100%. Nothing holds you back. You are there in every respect of the word. You don’t merely write about being a go-giver, you and Ana are the ultimate go-givers. XXOO Margret

  4. Laura Atchison

    My prayers are with you all at this time John. I am going through something similar with my mom and this post described the feelings so perfectly. Thank you.

  5. Kimberly Philpott

    Yes we are not alone with this journey beings it is the circle of life. But what a blessing for you to witness God’s plan and sharing in the experience. That’s truly a gift on its own. I am sole caregivger for my Mom, who lives with me. I’m doing my best to keep her with me as long as I can, before she too will be headed to memory care. When this day arrives I know it will break my heart, however it’s not about me. It’s about what best and safe for my Mom while she heads closer to the exit for heaven. God Bless you!! And thanks for sharing your incredible journey! Thoughts and Prayers, Kim

  6. jdmann

    Rob, Art, Margret, Laura, Kim — and all you folks who wrote direct (but were too shy to comment here) thank you thank you. Thoughts and prayers and kind words and good vibes, all much appreciated.



  1. Journal of John David Mann » Blog Archive » Deep as an Ocean - [...] Tuesday near the end of March, John wrote the most beautiful blog about Sylvia. He referred to the place…

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