Give the Gift of Presence

It is presence — not presents — that are the best gifts of all

Zeke taught me the gift of presence. And the delights of a good tennis ball. Photo: Jeanne Grunert

Every day when I walk my German shepherd past our neighbor’s house, Zeke casts longing eyes towards their front door. Snorting behind the glass panels flanking the front doorway is Cinder, their boxer dog. Zeke whines and pulls, Cinder snorts, and I tug him away yet again, whispering, “Not today. They have to go to work, and we do, too.”

When Zeke was a puppy, Cinder helped him learn how to walk up our long, curving, tree-dark driveway. It must have looked scary to an eight-week old puppy just learning about leashes, collars, and this strange phenomenon known as the “walk.”

Zeke wasn’t one to pull on the leash. Not forward, that is. Instead, he threw himself on the ground, grabbing the leash with his mouth and enjoying the world’s greatest tug toy, or pulling backwards and screaming like we were killing him. No amount of coaxing would get him up the scary driveway.

In desperation, I texted our new neighbors. “Can you bring Cinder down the driveway? Maybe we can lure Zeke up to the road for his walk if he follows Cinder and she shows him it isn’t scary.”

It worked. Now Zeke loves his walks. But he always pauses at our neighbor’s house, straining towards their yard where he once played with Cinder as a reward for walking up the driveway without a fuss.

Thus began the dogs’ immediate, joyous relationship, and our budding friendship with our neighbors.

There are dozens of great things about having a dog but the one that stands out to me is the way they have of bringing people together. We spent many weekends visiting dog-owning friends in our quest to socialize our puppy and ensure he had some enrichment with canine friends; in return, we realized we craved the gift of friendship and companionship ourselves.

As the daylight hours waned and our walks grew earlier, we saw less of Cinder and our neighbors. Darkness comes early in the winter, and the rural area where we live is especially dark as night falls. We rarely saw our neighbors except to wave as they ran to their cars to leave for work.

“Let’s invite Jake and Helen over for cookies and hot cocoa,” I said impulsively to my husband on Saturday. “Zeke needs playtime and he hasn’t played with Cinder in ages. Plus it would be nice to get together with neighbors for the holidays.”

“Let’s do it,” my husband agreed.

Zeke knew Cinder was on her way. I don’t know how he knew. My cellphone buzzed; Jake messaged me “We’re on our way.” But I knew that already. Zeke was at the front door, staring at the panels as if they would open by magic to let him out to greet his friend.

While the dogs zoomed like maniacs around the lawn, we caught up with Jake and Helen. We spent an hour outside playing ball with the dogs, laughing at their antics, enjoying the crisp December air. The dogs behaved fairly well while we sat on the sofa in front of the fireplace sipping hot cocoa and nibbling the cookies Helen had brought. Then we went outside to play some more, letting the dogs relax on the fenced deck while the men talked sports and Helen and I talked horses.

The hours passed, and stars twinkled in the black velvet sky. Our breath spangled the air as the night temperatures dipped. We parted, reluctantly, Jake and Heather waving, Cinder’s tail wagging, Zeke dropping, exhausted and happy, to his mat in the living room to snooze and dream about chasing tennis balls.

It was a simple Sunday afternoon. But the gift it gave us, the gift of presence with our neighbors, the gift of our dogs with each other, is the gift I will long cherish and remember.

Photo: Ben White/Unsplash

This holiday season, as you run errands and wait on long lines, and click “buy now” online, and purchase gifts that may or not be useful or wanted, consider the one gift no amount of money can buy: the gift of your presence.

It is this gift that people crave, not shiny wrapped boxes. Boxes and bows and gifts have their place, but the gift that is long remembered, cherished, wanted, is the gift of yourself: Your presence is the present.

Give it freely. Give it with a loving heart. Give it generously.

It’s the gift only you can give them.

I’m a former marketing executive who quit a stressful city job, moved to a rural farm, and fell in love with nature. Writer, gardener, content creator.

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