The Power of Presence

She walked with her dogs twice a day through our neighborhood and into the arboretum. I would see her, sometimes in the morning, sometimes in the late afternoon, ambling luxuriously with her greyhounds, mouth barely, but convincingly, turned up in a smile.

One of the bridges in the LSU arboretum

LSU arboretum bridge

As I drove past her, she would turn in acknowledgment with a lazy grin and genuine southern saunter, as if she were nodding at me across the bubbles of a hot mineral spring, a sybarite draped across a chaise lounge mustering a sleepy greeting. She created a powerful wake of well-being as she passed. Whenever we crossed paths, I felt a wave of serenity, joy, and connection wash over me.

She lived around the block, not a quarter of a mile away from me, for as many as fifteen years. Yet I never exchanged more than those splendid passing greetings through the windshield. I didn’t know her name, her circumstance, her family, her profession. Even so, I felt like I knew her.

I’m sure this tall, slender, composed woman was that mom who would listen calmly to a frantic, troubled story, reach across the table when the story was complete and take the child’s hand, transfusing comfort and still: everything will be okay. She didn’t fall apart. She was the calm in the chaos, the unruffled in the frenzy. She was a good listener, communicating more in the quiet reverie of listening than the thousands of words she gracefully absorbed from a rambling friend.

I don’t know that I realized how much I enjoyed passing her as she strode into the arboretum, that I had a subconscious longing to be her friend, to get to know her. She lived so close and it was always wonderful to see her. I didn’t realize the magnitude of her presence until I realized that we no longer crossed paths. She was gone. Since she lived around the block on a parallel street, I wasn’t sure which house was her home and I hadn’t been aware of anyone moving out or into the neighborhood from that street. Nonetheless, I am certain now. She’s gone.

Most importantly, I have realized that I would love to be like her. I don’t mean that I would like to be taller and thinner, with short red hair, a pair of greyhounds, and a happy quiet life around the block. But I would love to exude that comforting presence that rippled around her as wide as the street and as infectious as a baby’s smile.

She may not have been any of the things I imagined. She may have been a frantic disaster, who troubled and tormented her family and friends. She may have self-medicated before taking walks so that she could step out with an artificial air of confidence and comfort. Though, I don’t think so. For me, she will always and ever be that lift in my day, that heartening neighbor, that genuine completely present person who inspired me to slow down the frenzy, uplift a friend, comfort a child, listen with good ears, and be present for the moment.

 

Copyright © 2015 by Pennie Nichols, All Rights Reserved.

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