It was our first day of our family's vacation in Disney World, and the morning of our granddaughter's fourth birthday. We were an extended family doing a bit of exploration at Epcot before the reservation for her big surprise: brunch with Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Belle, Snow White, and other Disney princesses.
So, we found ourselves on the ride, Journey into Imagination with the small and friendly purple dragon, Figment, as our guide. Snuggled in ride-carts were parents and birthday girl in the first; grandparents (us) with her sixteen month old sister in the second. When the cart periodically swirled around, we easily caught glimpses of Neva laughing, and watched as her growing wonderment increased before our eyes.
It was during one such twill-around that I saw him in the cart behind us. Actually I first noticed his daughter. She sat quietly, disengaged and in sharp contrast to our granddaughter's ride enthusiasm. Despite being of a similar age, this little girl wasn't enjoying herself. But, it had nothing to do with the ride.
Occasionally she glanced up to see what Figment was doing, but for the most part she kept her eyes down or watched her father, chatting casually on the phone. He spent the entire ride on a call that was not life or work pressing. He chatted about yesterday's golf, the weather, where he had dinner, the lines at Disney. He chatted about everything in general and nothing in particular. He chatted to fill the time.
Not once did he pause the conversation to smile at his daughter, point out something she might overlook, cuddle close to her, or share a laugh. He's probably a great dad and this occurrence is but a tiny snippet of their daddy-daughter time, but it made me sad. Not because he was using his cell phone, although it was a distracter for others, but because he was "killing time."
We all kill time. We waste it, fritter it, consume it, and burn it. We operate as if time were a perpetual commodity, an undepletable resource for us, or a constant, like gravity. Instead, I'm reminded of Carl Sagan's words, "We are like butterflies who flutter for a day and think it is forever."
That's why I want to thank that father at Disney World. The mental image of his disconnected and disengaged daughter on that ride offers me a reflective pause and a nudge. I know I devour time sometimes the same way - spending it without being there. Being with someone isn't the same as being present with them.
Being mindfully present is the way to savor our moments, live vibrantly, and connect deeply. It seems to me, nothing honors either of us more than offering our full presence when we're together.
In this sometimes crazy, unpredictable world, amidst life's heartaches and challenges, I know tomorrow isn't promised to any of us. Yet, in the scheme of things, the older I get the more I've come to realize how important it is to make a conscious choice to be present in the today I do have.
(c) 2011 Nan S. Russell. All Rights Reserved.
Nan S. Russell is the award-winning author of "Hitting Your Stride: Your Work, Your Way." More about Nan and her work can be found at www.nanrussell.com. Author of "Hitting Your Stride: Your Work, Your Way" (Capital Books; January 2008) Sign up to receive Nan's free monthly eColumn at: www.intheschemeofthings.com.