A nurse, retiring after 44 years while also moving out of the home in which she raised her children, was feeling the anxiety of losing much of what had identified her entire adult life. I was telling her how important it would be to jump into the deep end of her new hometown, engage in community and really connect, when she flashed on her mother-in-law who had retired to Las Vegas seven years before. She had recently died, and the nurse was astounded by how many people attended the funeral…hundreds, including local store clerks and food servers.
In seven years, in a city the size of Las Vegas, imagine the kind of impression she must have made with even the most casual encounters. How she broke through the daily noise of life to leave people feeling seen, heard, validated, encouraged, loved. I wish I’d known her. I want to be her when I grow up.
What does it take to overflow a funeral service? What does it take to have the kind of presence that leaves people better than we found them? First things first, it starts with awareness. Without awareness of our inherent connection with everyone who shares our moments, there is no presence. And in case we think awareness means thinking deeply about what we’re aware of, let’s stop and clarify. If we’re thinking about our awareness, we’re not fully aware. If we’re not fully aware, we’re not fully present. If this woman had been thinking, if I’m really nice to this cashier she will come to my funeral, the spell would have been broken, the connection unmade.
We can be aware of something without thinking about it. Without attaching words, naming it in our heads. To think about something separates us as from a picture in a frame. To be fully aware is to become what we are aware of. At first, most of us will need to consciously practice not thinking about our thoughts, but until we graduate mere consciousness, awareness always remains just around the corner.
Awareness is not something we consciously do, it’s the state of being connected, a wordless presence that can’t be mistaken for anything less, even by store clerks and food servers in the midst of their busy days.