“The greatest gift you can give (yourself or anyone else) is just being present.” –Rasheed Ogunlaru
Let it ring! Hearing these words as a child crushed my spirit. And that spirit-crushing most often took place during family dinner.
You see, despite having six active children, all of whom were engaged in various extracurriculars, my mom created the space every night for a sit-down family dinner. Each child had a role to play from helping with the meal preparation to setting the table to the least desirable of jobs- doing the dishes afterwards.
We’d gather as a family for 45 minutes every evening to enjoy this meal before racing off to practice or to complete homework or to catch the last 15 minutes of the A-Team. At the table, we’d rehash the day, talk about what we learned in school, and share what we most looked forward to the following day.
With a family of eight gathered around a table more suitable for six, there were sometimes fights for more room on the bench, the accidental drinking from someone else’s cup of milk, and the occasional reprimand from our parents for grave crimes like elbows on the table or chewing with our mouths open.
And every evening, without fail, our hearts would elevate when the phone rang.
Now, for those of you a bit younger, a long time ago, in a world very different than the one we inhabit today, there was no Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook; there were no cell phones, caller ID, or even answering machines!
As a child, the phone was much more than some device tethered to a wall; the ringing of it represented something more than someone simply calling your number.
The phone was the lifeline extending from your family of origin to the limitless possibilities beyond your house. It was the possibility of a playdate, a sleepover, homework help, a friend, or maybe even a girl.
A ring represented hope, freedom, life!
As the telephone ring echoed toward the kitchen table, six kids simultaneously pushed back from the table and lurched toward the sound, only to be halted by our mother’s voice silencing the movement and squelching the hope: Let it ring.
We explained we were expecting a call, needed to talk, it would only take a moment. What if it was important, what if someone needed us, what if it was Ed McMahon and we’d won the sweepstakes?
Our pleas were met with the same indifferent, cruel response: Let it ring.
We’d return to the table shoulders slumped, faces drawn, defeated.
Said differently, though, we returned to our family, to the conversation, to being present to the most important people in our lives at the most important moment in our lives: the now.
How “Staying Connected” May Actually Be Hurting Our Connections
With the invention of cell phones, social media and the 24-hour-news-cycle, it feels more important than ever to stay connected.
With our phones no longer tethered to the wall, we are provided near constant opportunity to interrupt the meeting, to take our eyes off our date, to ignore our children. We have limitless opportunities to respond to the next beep, poke, like, dm, call, text, tweet, story, ring.
But my friends, we are made to do life together.
We are intended to actively engage and be focused on the people interacting physically with us.
Although family sit down dinners are rarer events these days, there are still moments throughout our days when we find ourselves in a meeting, at a table, on a date, or in a conversation with people who matter most, during times that matter the most.
The advice that we received loud and clear as children at the dinner table in the 1980s is certainly advice many of us need to be reminded of today.
Let it ring.
Because the greatest gift you can give yourself or anyone else is the simple gift of just being present.
This is your day. Live Inspired.