My favourite articles are those that stay with me, many years after reading. One of these articles, from 2015, is Frank Bruni writing about “The Myth of Quality Time” in The New York Times.
He starts by explaining that his extended family of 20 meet for a week each year. It’s a regular commitment, made and obeyed:
we’ve determined… that if each of us really means to be central in the others’ lives, we must make an investment, the biggest components of which [is time]. As soon as our beach week this summer was done, we huddled over our calendars and traded scores of emails to figure out which week next summer we could all set aside. It wasn’t easy. But it was essential.
In response to whether a long weekend would suffice instead of a week, Bruni gives an emphatic no.
Bruni himself has arrived “a day late or fled two days early” in the past, but now stays for the duration and has noticed the difference. He says:
With a more expansive stretch, there’s a better chance that I’ll be around at the precise, random moment when one of my nephews drops his guard and solicits my advice about something private. Or when one of my nieces will need someone other than her parents to tell her that she’s smart and beautiful. Or when one of my siblings will flash back on an incident from our childhood that makes us laugh uncontrollably, and suddenly the cozy, happy chain of our love is cinched that much tighter.
Bruni acknowledges that we can try to engineer quality time. We can cordon off time. We can choose a setting. We can use tokens and ornaments “that signal celebration and create a sense of the sacred”. We can pay attention to each other.
But: “There’s simply no real substitute for physical presence”:
people tend not to operate on cue. At least our moods and emotions don’t. We reach out for help at odd points; we bloom at unpredictable ones. The surest way to see the brightest colors, or the darkest ones, is to be watching and waiting and ready for them.
My favourite excerpt from the article is that “sustained proximity is the best route to the soul of someone”. The most precious moments don’t come from orchestrated, contrived efforts to plumb the emotions of the people we love.
The most precious moments can occur at any time. We just need to be there when the moment blooms.