Jottings: The power of presence
Early rays of dawn break on the horizon backlighting the Douglas fir outside my window. I have spent hours watching her during this shelter-in time. She speaks of generosity as she shares her branches with crows and chickadees and squirrels. She speaks of perspective as I realize she was here before me and likely will be here after me. She spoke of rootedness when I watched her sway in the windstorm we had in September. In her treeness, she does what is hers to do and I find comfort in that impervious calm. Mainly, she reminds me of presence. Just presence.
I remember the first time I was alerted to the power of presence. I was a nursing student rotating through obstetrics. I was assigned an unmarried teenager who was screaming. There was no family member or friend to support her. She unnerved me in her neediness. I held her hand and felt her painful squeeze during contractions. But this couldn't be all a nurse does. Should I teach her to breathe more effectively? Should I be explaining the physiology of labor? I sought out my instructor. "I'm not learning anything," I complained. "I'm not being a nurse." Ms. Roby gave me a long look before responding. "You are a witness to her pain and her ability to endure. Never underestimate the power of your presence and touch for that woman and her unborn child."
As I pondered her words, friends shared their stories on the power of nursing presence. Kersti was hospitalized for abdominal pain and much of her experience in the emergency room was a blur. She finally came to understand the full impact of her illness in the middle of the night when she awakened alone in a hospital room. She was frightened and confused. The door quietly opened and a woman in soft-soled shoes walked to the side of the bed and put her hand on Kersti's shoulder. Kersti felt herself relax. She was not alone. And then John described his surgery experience. The doctors were competent and explained all aspects of surgery and what to expect on awakening. His intellectual self was well-prepared. But when he came out of anesthesia, he found himself restless and thrashing and frightened. He felt a soft grip on his shoulder that stayed with him until he could calm himself. It was a nurse. She gave him the power to regain himself. I learned to use presence effectively during my long career. In retirement, I seemed to forget.
Early this year I was busy inhabiting committees, book clubs, knitting and writing groups, as well as driving my husband to his many doctor appointments. He wasn't doing well. He rarely left the house. Then the pandemic caused us to isolate. Bob and I spent long moments talking, cooking and just hanging out. I felt unproductive. But I noticed Bob improving. He started making art after a long hiatus. His chronic pain lessened. I realized I was bringing to him what the tree brought to me, the healing power of presence.
Loving presence, the quality of our being. It is the gift we give both the human and the non-human world. I thank the tree for reminding me.
Cherie Dupuis is a member of the Jottings Group at The Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.
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