The Gift of Presence
The gift of presence is not easy to come by, you cannot pay for it, and few people have it naturally. When I say the gift of presence I do not mean personality - many people are 'personalities', rather, the 'gift of presence' is that amazing ability some people have, and foster, to really be present to another. We all know someone I hope who is really aware of others, who listens to others when they talk and remembers what they say, who looks others in the eye, who encourages with words and in their gestures, who wishes the best for them. People with the gift of presence make you feel that you are the only other person in the world at the moment when you talk to them. They are people we want to be like. What a great gift right? Who would not want to have it? I am lucky that for the past five years I have been able to foster that gift by working with children and adults with intellectual and physical disabilities. "We are not God's gift to these children, they are God's gift to us" Msgr. Gregory Ramkissoon often reminds his volunteers and workers at Mustard Seed Communities, a non-profit organization that has homes for abandoned and disabled children and adults. What does he mean by this? These are children and adults who live with a wide range of disabilities, some are physically crippled and have nearly no intelligence, others vary and have some mix of both, or one and not the other. They are persons who demand attention. They might require over an hour to be fed, they may need help with baths, changing of diapers, medications, day in and day out - some may help out with little tasks or hold a job, whereas others with grave behavioral issues can be a constant danger to themselves and others. What makes them a gift?
When God made Adam, he made him in His image, and He still makes every person in His image today. Christ himself goes further though, he tells us that, "Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me" (Mt. 25:45). When we look a disabled person in the eye, we are looking at Christ. Their presence that demands our attention is Christ demanding our attention. We have Christ in our midst in the disabled and he is asking us to take care of Him, to be present to him - what greater gift is there than to take care of our Lord who humbled himself and became man, who died on the Cross, all that we may have freedom and true life in Him. Through the person with disability, I have had the opportunity to be patient with Christ, to feed Christ, to help Christ go the bathroom. It tries you, it pushes you, to be present, to love. It is of course at many moments a complete joy as well - ask anyone who works with such a population! To work with this population remains one of the greatest gifts for me - where I have the opportunity to foster being present.
Well, you may be one of those so very lucky people that has someone with a disability in your family, or be in a field as caregiver, teacher, nurse or doctor where you get to work with them - but even if you do not, don’t worry! Msgr. Ramkissoon often also reminds his staff and volunteers, "we are all disabled, we all have disabilities". So the next time, you hear someone say (or feel like saying it yourself) "She is an idiot", "He is so stupid", or "They are retarded", you can say, "yes that is right, we all are, and that person you called an idiot is Christ, calling out for our attention and love."