Here and Now
14 February 2022
I met the person I wanted to become in 1996. Do you remember when you had that revelation of who you wanted to be? I remember the moment well. Walking along Ely Place in London, I saw a greyish blue Jaguar XJS parked by the curb. Many cars were parked along that part of the road early that morning, but the fact that the fuel-filler cap was open caught my eye. There was a man inside the car reading a broadsheet newspaper. I had an inexplicable compulsion to close the filler cap shut. If I closed it without warning, I might startle the driver as I walked from behind the car. So, I stopped by the open window and said, "Your filler cap is open".
It was his reaction that made such an impression upon me. With the slightest of movement, he breathed, "Just push it to." I could see a gentle smile of kindness as he spoke those words. There was a remarkable stillness about him. He just took it all in his stride. A stranger had spoken to him without introduction or context. And yet he could be present at that moment without any demonstrable effort. His words were frugal, yet his smile opened a cavern of authentic warmth. Thinking about this now means that it had a profound impact on me.
I have wanted to have his presence of mind ever since. I associated the car with that presence of mind. It could be the grace of the car bestowing that same character on the driver. Or the car could be a token of the success of someone who can be present effortlessly. I hear the concerns that maybe he knew the filler cap was open and saw me in the rear-view mirror. Perhaps he was bored with the newspaper and welcomed a distraction. Maybe indeed. But to rationalise removes the magic of the moment. It would be an attempt to dispel the possibility that someone can effortlessly be present with you.
Because I'm conscious of the ability to be present, I have seen it many times since and can reflect that I have seen it many times prior. And not where you would expect it. A close friend. A stranger. A child. A parent. A doorman. An entrepreneur. And everyone in between.
But why did I want to become like him? Firstly, being present deepens relationships, both old and new. Our energy is centred on that moment, on being with someone. Enabling one to just be. And enabling the person with us to just be. No need for pre-thought. Just an authentic relationship. Secondly, the ability to transport ourselves to the present moment reduces anxiety. It cuts out all the noise of "what may be" to find peacefulness. Thirdly, it helps our personal effectiveness. We can do so much more with significantly less time and effort. We focus on one thing, which gets our best attention.
I'm not saying that I have become that person yet. Or indeed that I ever will become him. But that brief encounter with a stranger has given me a path to follow. Who do you want to be?
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