I have a dear friend Ann who lives in another state and I try to see her as often as possible. Her husband, Jim, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a few years ago . During one visit, I had planned a surprise birthday party for Ann and managed to get most of the family there for the big party. At one point, Jim came up to me and said, “Well, it’s finally happening. This is it. I think I’m going to die now.” This alarmed me quite a bit and I said, “Oh, no. What makes you say that?” He responded, “Because everyone I’ve ever loved is here tonight and visiting me. I’ve seen everyone now and been able to tell them how I feel. That must mean that it is okay for me to go.” I remember feeling sad that he interpreted this event as a sign from above that it was his time to go and then feeling angry about the illness that was robbing him of his faculties. But it wasn’t until later that something clicked for me about that moment. It wasn’t his illness that was creating an irrational thought process about his death. It was the fact that he, like so many of us, get caught up in our lives and it’s only when something tragic or life changing happens that we truly pause and finally cue ourselves to be completely present with the things that matter most. People. Connections. And our relationships and feelings with those people. His illness had provided a gift of presence that most of us gloss over each day. So now, I affectionately call moment’s when I’m acutely aware of the blessings and fortune in my life, a “Jim” moment. Because I think, “Life is alright. I’m alright. I’m safe and the people who love me are here. This is peace.”
I spend more time in a state of anxiety, worry, or otherwise feeling overwhelmed much more than I would like to admit. And it becomes too clear when, out of the blue, I have a “Jim” moment. I can’t help but reflect on a couple of these moments that happened just this week. The first one happened on my way home as I was talking with my Mom and the second was after spending a laughter filled evening with two of my close friends.
In each of those instances I was able to share how I was feeling, what my worries and fears were about and, in turn, receive love and support. With my Mom it was more of an emotional purging and she responded with love and understanding that sometimes can only come from your Mom. I was overwhelmed with a feeling of gratitude for her support. With my friends, it was more about the pure acceptance of me that brought so much joy to my heart. They receive me exactly as I am without judgment. I am able to speak my heart and not worry they are going to look at me like I’m crazy. Okay, they still may look at me like I’m crazy but we laugh while they are doing it! They remind me what true friendship really looks like.
Unfortunately, it’s easy for me not to be present in my own life. I often start thinking about some task that I haven’t done yet or some schedule issue that I need to resolve. I worry about things way outside my control or get caught up in some downward spiral of negative thinking. But the wild thing is that when I’m present and totally engaged in a moment with someone I feel more alive and true to myself than any other time. My heart fills with joy and it is almost like I’m receiving some miracle drug of sorts that makes whatever current challenge or fear seem more bearable.
I notice that as I take better care of myself and express my true feelings, I have more of the “Jim” moments and become aware of how grateful I am to have people in my life that mean so much to me. When I am fully present in my daily interactions I am more open to embracing and expressing gratitude. It is happening more with my family, my friends, with my work, and especially within myself. I hope that I will continue to get better at recognizing and cherishing these moments until one day it is simply the natural state that I exist. Until then, I will use the simple and effective strategy to increase my awareness…it takes 3 steps: pause, breathe, repeat.