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JOHN EGGERS COLUMN: Are you sure you are really present?

Memorial Day is a good time to reflect upon who we are, what we do and what we wish to become. It's a good time to reflect upon how we got to be where we are today, both as individuals and as a country.

In my hometown, we celebrated Memorial Day by marching down Main Street with the honor guard of veterans leading the way, followed by the high school band, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and then maybe some people on horses. It was a short parade but for a small town, it attracted a fairly big crowd. It finished at the White Water Creek Bridge where the honor guard shot their rifles and the scouts threw flowers into the creek.

It was a good beginning for Memorial Day. We have similar events happening in the area today. Kathy and I will go to the Nebish Township Cemetery and listen to an address given by a local pastor followed by the reading of the names of deceased veterans, taps and singing God Bless America.

What is unique about Memorial Day celebrations is that everyone seems to be present. I mean, everyone participating is focused on that moment when we honor those soldiers who died to save our country.

Being present is an art. You have to work at it. Our soldiers work hard at it. They have to forget where they came from, forget who they are and just concentrate on those moments in time when their life and the lives of their fellow soldiers depend on their being present. You could say they have to be focused.

About this time of the year when our students are waiting for those last days of school to finally end, I think we could safely say that their bodies may be present, but I'm not so sure about their minds. For this reason those last days of school are tough for teachers.

I have an old "Field and Stream" magazine cover that shows a boy dreaming about fishing while his teacher is doing division problems on the board. His grade in arithmetic was probably not so good that grading period. His mind just wasn't present.

We all have had moments where our daydreams got the best of us. It still happens today. We attend meetings, a church service, a graduation exercise, a conference or even sitting at the kitchen table while our spouses or children are talking to us and we are thinking about something we need to do or some issue we need to solve. We just aren't present.

I try to be more present today than what I may have been yesterday. I try to treat others, as I want to be treated. The more I try, the better I get. How can you improve your own ability to be present?

In evaluating speeches for Toastmasters, for example, I do a better job when I actually repeat in my mind everything the speaker is saying. When the speaker says something significant, I underline what he or she is saying in my mind.

One-way to improve your aptitude for being present is to imagine that other people can see what you are thinking. Visualize yourself having a bubble over your head that contains your thoughts visible to everyone else. What if we could actually do that? I guess in a way we are by reading someone's body language.

If we are on our phones, we can't be present. If we are sleeping, we can't be present. If we are reading the newspaper, watching TV, talking to our neighbor, we can't be present.

Sometimes we just forget about what being present really is. "Fish", a best selling book of a decade or so ago, is centered around a mundane Seattle fish market that is so successful visitors come just to observe the employees. What makes these people work so closely together and be so happy? They are recognized for their talent. They are valued; they are present.

If we want to feel good about ourselves, we have to be good to others and that means being present.

Memorial Day is a good day to be present in whatever we choose to do. It's good because we celebrate the epitome of what it means to be present. We celebrate all the good this country represents because some men and women in many wars realized that in order to be the kind of soldier that was expected of them, they had to be present. We salute them for their acts of courage and for helping us be present on this Memorial Day.

Riddle: What is the quietest sport in the world? (Bowling, because you can hear a pin drop.) Sports are good activities for teaching kids to be focused, to be present.

100 percent graduation

A local movement is underway to ensure the area has a 100 percent high school graduation rate. Thanks, again, to the Kelliher City Council for supporting the 100 percent movement. Here are some tips to help us all achieve that goal.

1. Graduation exercises are good for reminding young people that someday they will be up front.

2. If you want to see young people with smiles on their faces, take a look at a high school or college graduate. We have to work harder at ensuring every young person experiences this opportunity.

3. To be a good student, to be a good parent, to be a good teacher, you have to be present.

John R. Eggers of Bemidji is a former university professor and area principal. He also is a writer and public speaker.