The Perfect Holiday Gift – 11 ways to give our presence (even from a distance)

The past three years, my husband and I have lived deep in the woods where cell phone service is spotty at best. There’s only one place in our home where I can reliably get a good signal. No more chatting while I unload the dishwasher, cook dinner, or put away laundry. To avoid the frustration of a dropped call, I must sit down and simply converse. The situation has forced me to experience the joy of being present.

This holiday season, most people need our presence more than our presents. Though it will probably be from a distance, being present offers the gift of our most precious time, energy, and attention.

11 ways to give our presence this holiday season ~

1. Let Go of Expectations. Even without a pandemic, the holiday season can struggle to live up to our commercially-driven expectations and standards. This year, instead of thinking how we wish things were, let’s focus on enjoying life exactly as it is.

2. Reach Out. Because of the virus, many people will spend the holidays alone. While we might be tempted to pull the covers over our head until next year, we need to reach out to people. A cheerful conversation remembering old times and looking ahead can do wonders for everyone’s spirit.

3. Really Listen. Often when someone is talking, we’re waiting to get in our two cents. Conversations require some back and forth, but don’t be afraid of a little silence. Instead of thinking of our response, we can take that time to process what was said and respond by asking questions and clarifying the other person’s words.

4. Pay Close Attention. Sometimes we get so caught up in our own world we don’t really see the people we care about. Taking time to notice subtle, non-verbal communication helps us understand other people’s feelings and gives us a chance to offer genuine compassion and empathy.

5. Cut Out Distractions. We all know the feeling of talking to someone who is clearly focused on something more important than your conversation. To really connect with someone, we must eliminate distractions so we can give them the gift of our full attention.

6. Dive Deep. This year we won’t be attending any big holiday parties where small talk is most appropriate. Take advantage of smaller gatherings and phone calls to enjoy some conversation that goes beyond the weather and typical surface exchanges.

7. Make Eye-Contact. At least those annoying masks don’t cover our eyes. Looking at others warmly shows we are engaged and interested. Whether meeting in-person, on Facetime, or a Zoom call, eye contact is a powerful way to demonstrate our care and respect.

8. Choose Mindful Activities. There’s nothing wrong with having a family movie night, but it might not be the best way to spend quality time. Try taking a walk together, playing a game, making a craft, or just talking over some hot chocolate.

9. Tune-In to the Senses. One of the best ways to immediately be more present is to become aware of our senses. Focusing on what we see, hear, taste, smell, and feel can get us out of our heads and into the moment. Twinkling lights, holiday music, a glowing fire, and delicious treats are all sure ways to enjoy being present.

10. Lend a Hand. If we listen and pay attention, we often find there is something we can do to help others. When at our home, both of our sons-in-law are wonderful at noticing what needs to be done and quietly doing it. Our presence is always appreciated when we lighten the load for someone else.

11. Give Love. It’s been a long year, and we’re all worn out by such unprecedented events. The gift of our presence is a sincere and thoughtful way to put more love into the world this holiday season, and that’s a gift everybody can use. §

Question of the Week: What tip do you have for being more present with yourself or others? Please share your thoughts in the comment section. Wishing you a week filled with holiday presence. Merry Christmas!

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A Poem that Spreads Hope (Not Germs)

Long before the Coronavirus became part of our vocabulary, I planned to write this week about Emily Dickinson’s poem “Hope” is the Thing with Feathers. I thought it a perfect poem to usher us through the last days of winter and into a lovely spring. Little did I realize the Belle of Amherst might help us find hope during a pandemic.

In this well-known poem, Dickinson uses a beautiful extended metaphor to compare hope to a selfless little bird perched in the soul of every human being. The poet reminds us hope and optimism are positive qualities we can all summon, especially during adversity.

In the first stanza, Dickinson creates the imagery of a bird endlessly singing a song of no words, just the purest form of hope. She reminds us in the second stanza that hard times don’t dissuade the little bird. In fact, that’s when the song is the sweetest. The pronoun I appears for the first time in the third stanza, revealing that hope helped her survive the tests and trials of her own life.

Dickinson is often thought of as a hermit, but perhaps she was practicing a healthy form of social distancing. She spent most of her adult life at her family home enjoying nature, writing poetry, and nurturing a close relationship with her siblings.

It seems we can all help stop the spread of the Coronavirus by following her lead and hunkering down for a little while. Maybe we can find time to relish the pleasures of home, watch spring miraculously unfurl, and hear the universal song of hope Emily Dickinson wrote about more than a century ago. §

(No. 314) “Hope” is the Thing with Feathers by Emily Dickinson

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

The third Sunday of the month, The Simple Swan is devoted to poetry. Nature has inspired poetry for as long as there have been poets. Reading these poems helps us slow down, contemplate the beauty in our world, and connect with timeless and universal themes. As a retired literature teacher, I want to do my little bit in keeping the classics alive. Thank you for joining me!