Taking a leave of absence to be more present

Column by Andrea W. Doray
Posted 9/5/18

Absent (def): not present in a place, at an occasion, or as part of something. Leave of absence (def): time when one has permission to be absent. I have been absent … over the summer, primarily, …

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Taking a leave of absence to be more present

Posted

Absent (def): not present in a place, at an occasion, or as part of something.

Leave of absence (def): time when one has permission to be absent.

I have been absent … over the summer, primarily, and with permission, mostly. Although I needed to step away from what was too onerous or too demanding at the time, I’ve also been absent from aspects of my life that are enjoyable, exciting and satisfying … such as writing to you regularly in this column. Fortunately, though, I was able to take the time I needed, and now I’m back.

Earlier this year, I reported on a short sabbatical I had taken during which I didn’t open my computer, turn on the TV or the radio, check emails or texts, or take calls for about 10 days. I emerged with the strength and fortitude to make some tough decisions, as well as to take some leaps of faith.

Maybe that abbreviated event encouraged me to seek permission for my more extended leave of absence the past few months. And now that Labor Day has come and gone – that harbinger of football (finally!), back to school, and the change in seasons precipitating all that fall in Colorado has to offer – I’m prompted to reflect on this experience.

What did it mean to be “absent,” to be “not present”? I realized that, for me, being absent has actually meant that I was more present in many cases. Being absent from social obligations (some) and business obligations (a few) gave me breathing room to be present for two bittersweet celebration-of-life memorials, a joyous family wedding, numerous events out of town, and the leap-of-faith move that I mentioned above.

Along the way, some of these temporary absences have turned into permanent decisions not to continue at all, which have made me wonder: what else can I truly jettison from the precious hours of each day to make more room for being present?

Where can I find the time – as well as the physical and emotional energy – to work out and continue rehabbing from the car accident last year? To practice the piano? To explore the bike paths of my new neighborhood? To spend more time with the people I care about?

And, perhaps most importantly, how will I give my own self permission to let go of obligations that previously have been so closely held?

The answer, I’m finding, is right here … within my own self. Of course, I’m concerned about the impacts of my absences on others; these are always part of the equation. What I didn’t count on, though, were the impacts on me.

By letting go of what I did – either temporarily or more permanently now – I had space to fill.

And fill it, I did – thoughtfully, and with intention.

Essentially, I was getting – and giving myself – permission not to be absent, but to be more present, where and when it mattered.

There is a quote – attributed to everyone from Socrates to J.M. Barrie of Peter Pan fame – that goes something like this: “Be kinder than necessary, because everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.” My own battles this summer – albeit minor in the context of world events – required my presence.

I thank you for your kindness while I was absent.

Andrea Doray is a writer who – in an unattributed part of the quote above – reminds us all to live simply, love generously, care deeply and speak kindly … and to be present by giving ourselves permission to be absent. Contact Andrea at a.doray@andreadoray.com.

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