Woody Allen is credited with one of my dad’s favorite sayings: “Ninety percent of life is just showing up.” Whether Allen actually coined the line (a rigorous Google search was inconclusive), I find it truer with each passing year.
“Showing up” is such a modest thing that it’s easy to dismiss or overlook. But there’s great wisdom in the concept. So although I fall short myself, here’s an aspirational essay on the lifelong goal of simply showing up.
When I was young, I remember people talking about spending “quality time” with kids. As I understood it, the idea was to plan time spent with children, ensuring the highest possible parenting impact. Quality, not quantity.
I’m glad my parents didn’t subscribe to that philosophy. As they know, and I’m learning myself, life’s most magical moments come not in the fulfillment of grand plans, but in the unplanned interstices that take place between life’s bigger events.
Think of all the little things that happen on the way home from sports practice, over the dinner table, getting ready for bed, or just hanging out. A question, a joke, an impromptu game — all the things kids come up with spontaneously. Recall one and ask yourself: Could you ever have planned that? You couldn’t, of course. It happened just because you showed up.
Less obvious but every bit as important is the effect we have on others by simply being present. Appearing at a school play, listening carefully to a story, helping with a puzzle — the gift of one’s undivided attention is more precious than anything that can be bought in a store. And kids know it.
As a 20-year-old camp counselor, I got to know a kid — maybe 11 or 12 — who was loud, obnoxious, hyper and rude. One day I decided to spend some extra time with him because nobody else would, and I liked him despite his difficulties.
Out of the blue, he told me his parents sent him to camp for two months each summer so they wouldn’t have to spend time with him. I found that heartbreaking, but it wasn’t my place to say it. We became friends, and he turned out to be a kind, sensitive and highly intelligent person. I’ve often thought back on him and what his parents were missing because they weren’t present in his life. He’s grown up now, maybe with kids of his own. Having gotten to know him a little bit that summer, I’ll bet he’s a good dad, too.
Showing up matters. It isn’t always easy, but it’s marvelously uncomplicated. It’s a worthy goal to set for oneself.
Rob Witwer is a former member of the Colorado House of Representatives and co-author of the book, “The Blueprint: How Democrats Won Colorado and Why Republicans Everywhere Should Care.”