Phoning It In

Many of us live lives filled with high levels of stress, commitment and competing priorities. I know that there have been times in my life when I have been physically present, but not fully present in all respects, with my mind and attention somewhere other than the place that I am in. And I know that there are times when I just couldn’t manage to be somewhere, when there were things I missed because, as I have come to understand, we just can’t be two places at once.

For those of us who have careers and parents, children, families and friends, time often seems to be the most precious commodity and we stretch and stretch to fit in all in, sometimes successfully and sometimes not. It can be a struggle to be both in the place you need to be and to have your focus fully there.

Yet I think that it’s a struggle that matters more than we acknowledge and a struggle that we must fight harder to win. I think of that particularly when I think about families, when I think about life cycle moments, when I remind myself that every moment, every interaction is unique and unrepeatable.

I confess that this topic is on my mind because my son is being married this week. It’s a busy time and an emotional time and I think about the need to stay present on so many levels. I want to be sure that I am not fretting about this or that but really enjoying the day and these two special young people.

I also can’t help but think about those who are not present, those who are with us only in spirit and in memory. How much my parents, my brother, my brother-in-law, my nephew all would have longed to be here for this, to celebrate with us, to share the joy. It makes me wonder about those who will not be with us, for whatever reason, for they are missing much more than an event, they are missing an opportunity that will not, in the same way, come again. It’s a loss, a loss for all of us.

In addition to being there for times of celebration, the other life cycle event that being present seems to me to matter so much is at end of life. When we have the opportunity to say our farewells to a loved one, when we have the gift of knowing that the end is near and we can share that one last conversation, hug or just time together, it matters—both to our loved one, to the rest of our family and, most importantly, to us. After the death, through the process of funeral and shiva, being there matters as well, connecting, telling stories, healing together.

There is a lot we can do in our electronic world. We see people using Skype and FaceTime to be at weddings and even funerals. Sometimes that is the best we can do. But I wonder how often we settle for that substitute and we lose what really matters — being engaged, having personal contact, being fully and truly present.

About the Author
Carol Silver Elliott is President and CEO of The Jewish Home Family, which runs NJ's Jewish Home at Rockleigh, Jewish Home Assisted Living, Jewish Home Foundation and Jewish Home at Home. She joined The Jewish Home Family in 2014. Previously, she served as President and CEO of Cedar Village Retirement Community in Cincinnati, Ohio. She is chair-elect of LeadingAge and past chair of the Association of Jewish Aging Services.
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