‘Tis the season of giving and receiving. Stores bustling; presents bought and exchanged. However, the greatest gift of all doesn't cost a penny. The gift of our presence: an open heart, a gentle touch, and receptive ears.

While presents convey thoughtfulness and generosity, material things generally don't create meaningful and lasting memories. Rather it's relationships, shared experiences, and stories that have the power.

Visiting my parents-in-law, now in their eighties, I see how being together lights up their lives much more than the bag of presents. Chatting at the breakfast table, singing karaoke, giving a foot massage, and quietly reading side-by-side: Simply being and being simple together. This is what makes our hearts sing. This is what unites and brings meaning. This is what memories are made of.

The other day my husband and I invited someone over for holiday cheer, a friendly acquaintance who lives alone with few friends and family ties. We indulged in plenty of tasty food and drink and exchanged presents. He recounted his experiences of post Vietnam days, when he found himself confused and living on a park bench for years. He described his journey from the dark to the light and how a couple of caring individuals believed in him and opened the door for him to now live with meaning, self-respect, and gratitude. As my husband and I listened, we were awestruck to consider how this well groomed, delightful man in the pin-striped shirt before our eyes was out on the streets just ten years earlier. As we shared stories, laughter, and listened to one another, hours flew by like a flash. While our backgrounds and the details of our stories are quite different, the common threads among us are palpable... stories of loss and challenge, and of caring and connection. He contacted us the next day and thanked us for the evening, for listening and sharing. The present was secondary: Our presence was primary.

Have you listened (really listened) to the stories of people in your life, stories yet untold or at least not heard, until now?

Have you given the greatest gift, the gift of your presence?

About the Author

Susan Bauer-Wu, Ph.D.

Susan Bauer-Wu, Ph.D., R.N., is the author of Leaves Falling Gently and a mind-body researcher and mindfulness teacher.

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Simply being and being simple together