Somehow the sound draws me up in the middle of the night from a deep and dreamless sleep. My eyes open, narrow slits. I listen, and for a moment I don’t hear it—but wait! There it is, far away, drowning in the hum of the fan. My middle daughter is coughing. Again.
I sigh, check my phone. 2:10. I gently move out of bed, trying not to wake my wife, and ease myself toward the door, sidestepping our youngest son, who has ended up on our bedroom floor for the night. Again. I walk down the hall, trying to keep each step out to the side, avoiding the groaning center of the floorboards in this hundred-year-old house.
Another round of persistent coughing. I go in and sit at the foot of her bed. The humidifier sends cloudy vapors into the air. A fan drones in the hall. For a moment I watch, and she seems to sleep, but every thirty seconds she gives out two or three little coughs.
She stirs and wakes to find me sitting there. “Daddy, I’m so tired,” she says, tears pooling, adding another layer of depth to her blue eyes. “My allergies are awful tonight.”
“I’ll get you some tea,” I say, patting her leg. “Blow your nose. Try a cough drop. I’ll be back.”
It’s quiet in the kitchen, as if the entire city around us is under a spell. The kettle heats up, and soon steam billows out, the faint whistle beginning. I pull it from the burner, fill the mug, and carry it back up to her. She sits there, sipping the hot liquid, and I stay at the foot of her bed, watching her through burning eyes. This is the third night in a row. I am so tired.
She is still coughing, unable to keep her eyes open but unable to fall asleep. I wait there beside her, leaning against the wall, drifting in and out of sleep.
My wife eventually comes in and takes my place, and so the night goes, until my daughter is finally asleep again, around 3:30. We sit with her night after night, not because our being there heals her. We sit with her only to offer her our presence.
Presence is a powerful thing, even when we have no magical cure to offer, no way to ease a friend’s pain, no way to take away the bad things that have happened, and no words that will change how they feel.
Presence is a powerful thing, even when we have no magical cure to offer, no way to ease a friend’s pain, no way to take away the bad things that have happened, and no words that will change how they feel. When we sit with someone, when we offer our being to them, we are offering something that cannot be valued. What if our goal in spending time with people wasn’t to convince or explain or convert or change? What if, when we spent time with people, we simply offered them our pure, undistracted presence?