"What do you do to be present?"
This is the question a friend asked today.
I felt a little angry when she asked and she might have noticed a change in my face because she quickly added, "I'm asking myself this question, too. And I don't know if I have an answer."
I told her how I'd been walking the dogs. We have an older dog and a young dog. The older dog likes to spend a lot of time smelling things. She wanders, nose to ground, inhaling the world. She thinks about peeing. She decides it might be better to pee a little further down the way. She takes a few steps and she ponders whether this might be the spot, decides "no" and moves on. The little dog rushes forward. He pees on everything, walking on three legs, holding the third aloft to let the stream fly. He's all about moving on.
The older dog is on one wrist and the young dog on the other and I, stand on the parkway arms stretched out like a scarecrow. This can be frustrating.
A few mornings ago, I was standing there, arms pulling out of their sockets, being pulled forward and back and making no movement at all, and I felt really angry. I was impatient to get on with my walk and, after that, the big list of things I had to do that day (order khaki school uniform shorts, return the last batch of khaki school uniform shorts, buy toilet paper, find the little plastic back to the television remote, clean out the fridge. I had a novel chapter to write and that scrapbook from 2013 to finish... there is always something.)
In the middle of my impatience, I noticed this pink cloud. It was small and the color of abalone shell. Beautiful. I noticed a batch of the tiniest mushrooms sprouting out of the lawn in front of a grey stone house. I noticed the way the Magnolia roots look like the knees of elephants lifting out of the ground. I realized I hadn't been looking at the world. This whole, lovely summer of heat and strange humid air has passed in a blur. I've been like the young dog, running on three legs, barely attending to my own needs before I zip ahead to the next destination.
I made a plan then: let the older dog lead the way. As soon as I made the plan, my irritation evaporated. She snuffled around in the grass and I stared at the sky, the leaves, the flowering trees. Flocks of parakeets squawked overhead and a radio played classical music in a kitchen above the street.
This is what I'm doing to be present. When pulled between two forces (I've got two dogs and two kids, so there's plenty of options,) I'm going to try to go with the slower one. Let's take our time, see a thing or two along the way.
I cooked dinner tonight. I looked to my old friend Yotam Ottolenghi for an answer to the cauliflower in my veggie drawer. I chopped some beautiful tomatoes, scooped sunshine that is turmeric from the jar and made a meal for my family. It was bright and quiet in the kitchen and I took my time.