The Power of Being Present
We lost an icon last weekend when Florence Littauer entered glory at the age of 92.
She was most known for her "Silver Boxes" book and presentation, as well as her best-selling book Personality Plus and the teaching that flowed from it via CLASServices. Not surprisingly, Helen K. Hosier listed her as one of the "100 Christian Women Who Changed the Twentieth Century."
I got to know her while teaching at the Glorieta Christian Writers Conference between 2007-2013. Her presence at the conference was gigantic. After I met her, she sent me a personalized birthday card every year in her own handwriting.
One year, shortly after bumping into her at a conference (see the pic above), she sent me a card. She told me she enjoyed seeing me there, but it probably wouldn't happen again because she was stepping away from the speaking and publishing industry after a long career.
Her final words in that card to me were, "But I'll never forget you. With admiration, Florence."
As someone who often feels invisible, this struck a chord deep inside me. I don't know what I ever did to make such an impression, but I'll never forget her words.
As I thought about her life and legacy this week, I was reminded of an event that took place quite a few years ago in Marita Littauer's beautiful home in the mountains of New Mexico. Marita is one of Florence's daughters.
During the event, I leaned against Marita's front door and took in the scene.
Florence had just handed the CLASSeminars ministry baton to the faculty and it was time for a celebration. People gathered in clusters, laughing, sharing stories, and enjoying food and drink.
My natural inclination in large gatherings is to people-watch, given that I’m a phlegmatic with a heavy leaning toward melancholy (if you aren't familiar with those terms, check out Florence's Personality Plus book or visit the website that has been created to continue her work). Being overweight pushes me even further in those directions.
A friend named John drifted toward me and struck up a conversation. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted Florence going from person to person, looking each one in the eyes, asking questions, smiling, and placing a hand on each person’s shoulder.
The closer she got to me, the more my discomfort level grew. One of the greatest communicators of our time was about to engage with me in conversation, and if you’ve ever had the experience, you know she’s a straight shooter. What would she say to a phlegmatic/melancholy who really doesn’t like being put on the spot?
I should have known she would know how to handle me, considering she literally wrote the book about personalities. But that didn't make me any less fidgety as she got closer.
“I hear good things about you,” she said when she approached me and looked directly into my eyes.
“Thanks. I love mentoring writers one on one.”
“How do you mentor them?” she said. “What does it look like?” She raised her eyebrows. Within five seconds I was on the spot.
If you knew Florence, then you know that she was not only a master speaker but also a master listener, which meant she always knew what to ask. And she had a knack for being in the moment with one person at a time.
“Well, I listen to them to find out where they are on their journey," I told her. "I’m really listening for their passion. Then I try to find out where they want to go. Sometimes it takes a while to figure that out, but once I have those two bits of information, I help with the practical steps about how to get there. But I give them permission to explore along the way because I think that’s important.”
“Good, good,” she said. She patted me on the shoulder. “Tell me a little about yourself.” Her eyes never wandered. Her focus remained solely on me.
“I’m shy, not at all comfortable in a setting like this, and you are more inclined to find me with my face buried in a novel or a theology book than at a party.”
“What is your theological tradition?” she said.
“Reformed from what?”
I burst out laughing.
After explaining what reformed theology looks like to me, I finally felt at ease—comfortable enough to venture away from the door to engage a few others in conversation. And therein lies the power of being in the moment with a person—to listen to him, to look directly into his eyes, to touch his shoulder, to make him laugh, to free him to do the same for others.
That's the power of being present. And it was such a great gift.
Comments are closed.