The Present of Presence

by Tom Swift


You do not always know what to do but sometimes all you can do is also the best thing that could possibly be done: offer your presence.

People don’t want to be told what to do. They want to know they aren’t alone.

We all need a hand, sometimes, accessing the strongest parts of ourselves.

Alone, fear foments.

The young man, Jacksonian (not his real name), was freaked out. He knew it. It was understandable that he was. Most anyone would have been.

Guy took his dog. His buddy. A pit bull of sorts, it appeared, a big gray gentle beast that Jack says he talks to and shares his dinner with and takes everywhere he goes. Named him Rafiki (actual name). You know, he said, after the character in The Lion King.

Jack is what some might call rough around the edges. He’s in this mid-twenties, you would guess, and who isn’t confused at that point? He is not wearing much of a coat for a December evening in Minnesota. He also isn’t wearing a mask but we are outdoors. (Later you’re glad you asked about his dog’s name — The Lion King!)

Jack was in the parking lot at the library as you walked out with two books under your arm and though you have never met he starts talking to you rapid-fire as soon as you look his way because someone needs to know what is going on, what just happened. Jack’s hand is bloody. His eyes are angry and sad at the same time — mostly angry.

Just then the man who took Jack’s dog, seeing you standing there, opens his jeep door and let’s Jack take his dog back without struggle. (Jack had chased the man — a car chase another library patron standing in the parking lot told you she witnessed.)

From a wiki you found about The Lion King characters on Rafiki: “He serves as the king’s most trusted adviser, and his advice is always heeded.”

In that moment it was not about information or magic words. You empathized. Normalized. You modeled calm. Minutes later you showed Jack how to talk to the police. You talked slow. So he could. See. What a difference. It can make.

It took the police some minutes to arrive. Then they left again, to catch up to the man who had taken Jack’s dog. The man had initially gone into the library then gotten in his car, casually, and drove off.

After the police came back they talked with Jack for a long time. Gave him some alcohol wipes for his hand. He had punched the thieving man’s car, because what else are you going to do when your trusted advisor is being taken from you?

At one point Jack calls a friend and mentions you in a general way, repeating what you had told him, that it seemed the man who took the dog — who turns out to be Jack’s landlord — might be mentally unwell. Then Jack, still on the phone, sees you haven’t left, that you are standing to the side. He smiles. “He’s still here,” he says to his friend. In fact, the friend might be Jack’s grandmother. You had asked if there was anywhere he could go for the night.

After the police leave, Jack looks at you. “I stayed calm!” Too, police had given Jack encouraging news, he reported, about potential charges. Jack’s eyes are no longer angry. He is proud of himself and he deserves to be.

He and Rafiki are together. Jack gets in his car and the two of them drive away.

He got what he needed just then. Who knows what is to come for any of us. You want to solve the future but you cannot, of course. Yet do not underestimate the power of one right move.

It is, after all, all you have, in the end.