Time to be

(Dreamstime/Vladimir Nikulin)

"This year I'm not going to be so stressed out over the holidays," my friend Carol said. "In the past I always went crazy cleaning the house, decorating for Christmas, baking cookies, making appetizers and dips, writing cards, and falling exhausted into bed every night in December. No more! I'm not doing that!" she exclaimed. "We don't need all that tension around the house. This year I'm simplifying things so that we can all enjoy the holidays. No — make that Advent. So that we can enjoy Advent. That's a lost time in society today," she continued.

She certainly had a point.

"What's your secret?" I asked. "It seems to me you could be a very rich woman by sharing such a secret."

Carol wasn't moved by the compliment. "Secret? There's no secret. My family and I are just deciding that we're more important than things. We're enough present for each other."

That reminded me of a well-worn saying (or a derivative of it) many of us use frequently: "Yesterday is history, tomorrow is mystery, but today is a gift and that's why we call it the present." If you believe the internet, that saying is an original by Eleanor Roosevelt. And also by Babatunde Olatunji. And Bil Keane. And Alice Morse Earle. And don't forget Joan Rivers, Kurt Koontz, Kathy Collins, Prashanth Savanur, Aleatha Romig, Brian Dyson and Blake Crouch. Oh yes, and even Kung Fu Panda.

The word "present" does refer to an object given as a gift, but it also refers to the time that something occurs. Something occurred yesterday — past tense, or hasn't happened yet – future tense, or is occurring now — present tense. Grammatically, the present tense of a verb derives from the Old French "tens" and that from the French "temps" and that from the Latin "tempus," all defined as meaning time.

I'm with Carol. An approach to the holidays focused on person, on being, on making time for each other and on enjoying each other flows from the manger scene of Christ's incredible love for us in becoming one with us. This gift is truly the present.

[Nancy Linenkugel is a Sylvania Franciscan sister and chair of the department of Health Services Administration at Xavier University, Cincinnati Ohio.]

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