Bearing Witness

For twelve years I was an attendee of the local San Diego Society of Friends, more commonly referred to as the Quakers. Bearing Witness is an important part of their belief and practice.

“Bearing witness is largely nonverbal. It is being a compassionate observer to the unfolding of another person’s life or a particular moment or event.” The Power of Bearing Witness”-Judith Johnson

We, all of us, at some point or another in our lives come upon crisis, large or small, good or not so good, it really makes no difference. When crisis or trauma unfolds I believe that it is helpful to have those around us who can bear witness for each other. Sometimes we help each other sort through our feelings. More often we become someone who listens and observes while the other person speaks freely from their heart. Some times it is a quiet role of helping to hold the space so the other person can take care of the business at hand.

Guests at a wedding are bearing witness. Any time any of us gather in small or large groups we bear witness to that event in time. 

“When we bear witness, we lovingly give our attention to the other without judgment. We comfort without smothering. We play a supporting role — powerfully upholding the other starring in his or her life. It is not about us. It is about them. Yet, we make a profound decision when we do not try to fix their pain and suffering or share in their experience by telling how we had a similar experience. Bearing witness says, “You are not alone. I see you. I witness what you are experiencing. What you are experiencing matters to me. I surround you with my love.” The Power of Bearing Witness-Judith Johnson

Recently I was reminded again of the importance of bearing witness. A good and dear friend of mine received some painful news. Most of the day was spent on the phone and speaking with others. I began during this process to become aware of my role, bearing witness. Being in the immediate environment, as a witness to this time, I held the space so that she could make the phone calls she needed to. It felt important to let her know she was in a kind and loving space and she could take care of business. When and if she was ready, I was there for her to talk with. I was bearing witness.

One of my favorite quotes is “We are just walking each other home”. I believe we bear witness or honor the other person and know we are each on the same path, even though we may have different directions to get there. There is nothing more honorable and special in my heart than to help each other through all the different times in our lives.

 

Many have born witness for me over the past four and half years since my husband, Jim’s death. My community of friends has grown stronger. I am only now, beginning to recognize the importance that their role was for me in those first few years after he died. Most of these friends began to bear witness for me and Jim together when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I appreciate now, how much each person has offered to me. Some gave me space to talk and cry. Others kept me distracted, playing games, going to the movies, seeing an art exhibit. All of this support offered me space to grieve and begin to heal. We do this for each other. Sometimes it is all any of us can do.

There are many sides to bearing witness. I have become more conscious of this roll as I have matured. Although Jim’s death was hard, I still see that time as something I am so grateful for. We were all right there in the moment. It was special, unique, sad, loving and every other emotion the world. All of us that were with him until the moment of his death were bearing witness to a very special moment in time.  I may not always be happy with the outcome yet I am so thankful for the moment.

Lately I have been having these flashes of the events of the day he died.  They arrive, quite unexpectedly and then within seconds they are gone. I am left sitting at a stoplight in wonder. I feel that I am finally able to sift through that day, those events, without pain. The fact that these moments come quickly and leave quickly is important. I feel that these moments have been creating space for me to consider such topics as “Bearing Witness”.

Today I am thankful for those who have actively and not so actively held the space for me. I am thankful for the times I have held the space for others. I am thankful for Bearing Witness.