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A Jo Note on Presence

by Magnolia
Published on November 23, 2022

This is the season of light—we see its flicker in a window, around the tree, along a mantel. It never fades—the simple delight that a string of $10 twinkle lights can hold the gaze of millions of people. Busy people. Tired people. Old and young people. Glittering sparks in the dark as if to say, “Look!” The reward is in the noticing. In letting something stop us in our heavy tracks.

Beneath that simple pause lies an undercurrent. The kind that transforms a glance into a moment and then unfolds from a moment into a pause, and then as that pause slowly infuses all of my senses, I can feel its charge brimming at the edge. Presence. It’s equal parts tangible and intangible, sometimes dissipating as fast as it forms. But it’s this time of year when I crave the practice of active stillness the most.

I crave it because I know this is how my most cherished memories have been made. When I’ve worn presence like a favorite sweater so that certain details are almost permanently part of me.

The taste of my grandad’s favorite recipe. The sound of silence broken by crackles coming from the fireplace. The heat of hot cocoa in my hands. The resemblance in my children’s faces as their heavy eyes reach for just one more look at our light-studded tree before nodding off to sleep. The details are what I’ve learned to pull close for those times when I sense the urge to sink back into them. Later, after days or months or years have passed. Just to breathe them in again. To feel them once more.

Year after year, these are the details that ground me, upholding the promise of being in a moment that future moments will recall. More and more, nostalgia and Christmas are wrapped together in my mind. I tend to anticipate reliving the moments and traditions that define this season for our family more than anything new. We’ve woven a tapestry of memories built by details like these. And I’ve experienced that when the winters of life—be it loss, heartache, disappointment, or even a stretch of prolonged discomfort—can make the world feel cold, it’s this tapestry that covers the cracks, keeping out the draft.

So again, this season I am reminding myself, there is fullness right here, right now.

Because it’s tempting, isn’t it? To think there’s always something better waiting just around the corner. And maybe there is, but our hands are made to hold only one moment at a time.

I know details are easy to lose sight of beneath stacks of shopping lists, wrapping paper rolls, and a tangle of cords that never seems to have what I need. Presence is too easily replaced by productivity, the constant taskmaster who beats in my heart like ticks on a clock. So this winter, I’m looking ahead and checking things off now. Presents and plans. I spent a weekend last month ordering gifts and meal-planning for the gatherings to come. I’ve never been this far ahead before, but what I hope it yields, by looking ahead, by getting things done, is simply more space—so that it’s easier, later, to hold on to those details I’ve awaited. The ones I want to actually feel.

To linger a little longer because there’s nowhere I have to be. To roll down the window and watch my breath form in the frosty air. Sometimes, it’s through these small wonders that fit into the slivers of margin I leave for myself that the tiny becomes the mighty. And, once again, that’s where presence comes rushing in.

I want to let the ordinary become the extraordinary—the very thing this season reminds us is possible. It’s why a tree branch, dripping bulbs of color, can hold our gaze in childlike wonder. Or a field, fresh with snow, can set the soul at such rest. This isn’t about making every moment high-stakes. It’s not about adding more pressure to these final days of the year by trying to make every second meaningful. That won’t work, and besides, it feels like we’d be stripping those moments of their magic.

I think it’s more about choosing to lean in when you could easily lean out. Letting something catch your attention instead of brushing it off. It’s recognizing a moment so beautiful that it steals your heart—and then choosing it. Over everything else. Seeing it through. Presence, I’m learning, is revealed in our noticing. It’s in the pause. Where all is calm, all can be bright.

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