Power of Presence

As I sat outside my Uncle Jim’s hospice room, I talked to many people who came to say their goodbyes – they were colleagues, golfing buddies, and of course family. As I sat with them in the waiting room, I asked them questions like “How do you know Jim?”  or “What’s your favorite memory of him?”. I especially enjoyed the answers to my second question. The stories were mostly hilarious, often heartwarming.  If you knew my Uncle Jim, he was larger than life. When he showed up, he SHOWED up. He knew that presence mattered, and how he presented was impressionable. Here are a few of my stories. One humorous, one generous, one heartwarming,  – all impressionable.

When my daughter was turning about 8 years old, she wanted to have a luau themed party. So I rented a pavilion at the local park. We lived in Oklahoma at the time, and March  tends to be on the warmer side, if not pleasant. Well, the day of the party ended up being chilly. All of the guests had arrived, except Uncle Jim. That was unusual for him as I found him to be rather punctual most of the time. Well, there was a good reason for his tardiness – he was up to shenanigans, again.  He hopped out of the car wearing a long wig and a trench coat. He drops the coat and was wearing a grass skirt and lei. The laughter that erupted was beautiful. My youngest son was only about 4 at the time, but he distinctly remembers this moment – we all do.

Left to Right: My daughter, Victoria and Uncle Jim just before he ran off to change into warmer attire.

Fast forward a few years and my daughter had the opportunity to join the OKC Thunder girls for a cheer clinic and participate in their half-time show. Before the show, we ate dinner with the family at a restaurant in the arena and then departed for our seats. My little family could only afford to sit in the nose bleeds, but Uncle Jim had much better seats. He pulled me aside and told me to meet him near the entrance of his section before half time. I did so and he traded me tickets (back then we only had paper tickets – not bar codes on a cell phone! Ha!).

Left to Right: Me, my daughter Victoria, and Uncle Jim at dinner before the OKC Thunder game.

My daughter, Victoria, performing during OKC Thunder half time.

Many years later, I was living in Virginia and by this time, Uncle Jim had cancer.  This particular year, the 4th of July fell close to the weekend. My brother is known for putting together epic Independence Day celebrations; he lives way out in the country and you can do that kind of stuff out there. It was a perfect opportunity to swing out for a quick weekend visit. I didn’t know my brother had invited Uncle Jim to attend, so it was such a wonderful surprise when he showed up. He had a significant drive – an  hour. I was over the moon excited to see him. What sticks in my mind is he said to me “He wouldn’t have missed seeing me for the world.” He made me feel like the only person in a million miles even though I was surrounded by friends and family – many of whom I’m sure he wanted to see equally as much too.

My Uncle Jim would risk his comfort to show up in a hula skirt on a cold day just to brighten a little kid’s birthday party. He gave up his amazing seats for a blip of time so I could better see my daughter and all the while, he took photos that I cherish to this day. For the 4th of July, he had a choice to stay home and rest instead of going to the party – none of us would have blamed him for that at all, but he came anyways, dressed in patriotic attire, and ready to engage with everyone there as best as he could despite the cancer’s effect on his body.

These stories are just my own and I only knew my uncle from a familial perspective, but as I sat in that waiting room listening to other’s stories – colleagues and friends of his, there was an underlying theme – when he showed up – to work or the greens, he was present; he was engaged.  It’s not always easy to show up, especially for us introverts. (Uncle Jim was definitely an extravert.) But, if we have the opportunity to show up, and you are able to show up, then  be present – it inherently leaves an impression and that’s powerful.

4th of July 2019
Left to Right: Uncle Jim, my brother Andrew, Aunt Joyce, me, my middle son, Edward

I wish I had asked Uncle Jim what was behind the power of his presence, but regretfully I never did – he passed February 29, 2020. So, instead, I will share my observations about him:

  • You never saw him burning time on his cell phone when others were around. He would be talking to someone. And in the rare occasion he wasn’t talking, he was watching and waiting to engage someone else.
  • He was principled, polite, and kind.
  • I never heard him talk badly or gossip about anyone – ever.
  • The heart of people mattered to him; he always wanted to genuinely and sincerely know how you were doing.
  • He gladly took photos with people and he encouraged others to have their photos taken too.
  • He was a story teller.

I realize this is a professional blog, for professional people. But I didn’t know my uncle in a professional sense, but I gather through other’s stories that how he was with his family was similar to who he was with friends and colleagues. Some of the above observations take unique skills, like being a good story teller, but if you have it, then harness it! Show up with it! Maybe there’s another item from the bulleted list that you can employ so that you can better demonstrate your presence. I know for many of us, myself included, bullet 1 about cell phone usage is a challenge. It’s so easy to get sucked into it! Anyways, be present for you, for your family, as a colleague and as a volunteer – show up and leave a positive impression on those around you. Your presence is powerful!

What do you do to show others that you are present? Leave a comment and let me know.

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