Day 3–Bearing Witness

This evening I snapped my reading glasses right in half. I was trying to clean some of the dust and grime that had accumulated on them and guess I got a little too vigorous with the cleaning pressure. The true is, I am amazed they lasted this long; I’ve had them for a number of years now and wear them virtually every day for several hours per day. They are actually reading/computer glasses–they help me see the computer screen better, which means at this moment I am at a distinct disadvantage. I have learned over the years to react more calmly and in proportion to various events as they occur. Back when I was much younger, I would have thrown a bit of a tantrum: how could this happen to me? Bad things always happen at the worst possible time… So when I snapped my glasses I scrunched my face up and said aloud, “Well that’s inconvenient. I guess I should have taken care of replacing these years ago. Now I suppose I’ll have to.”

Sometimes things just sort of happen. We’re tempted to label them “bad” or “good” or other things, when really they are just something that happens. Often when something “bad” happens I want to call someone. I want to tell them, “Oh my gosh, can I tell you what just happened to me?” Last night when I was driving home in a heavy snowstorm I wanted to talk to someone. “You wouldn’t believe how bad it is out here,” I wanted them to know. And when I turned on my street and discovered that the power had gone out in my neighborhood, I wanted someone to know about that too so they could say, “Oh, I’m so sorry that happened to you, are you alright?” There’s something in us that wants someone to bear witness to what we’re experiencing, to validate and affirm for us that what we’re going through is real. The explosion of social media is a testament to this. We post things on our statuses or tweet, instagram and snapchat our lives out to the world so that people will respond and empathize, commiserate, bear witness.

On the day my mother died we were hosting a small Memorial Day gathering. When my sister called, my partner at the time handed me the phone and went back to the guests. I don’t remember my sister’s words, only their impact. I didn’t tell the guests what was happening; I merely shook my head at my partner and continued the party, only telling him afterward what had happened. For some reason on that particular day, I didn’t want anyone’s attention on me. I needed to respond internally first, on my own terms, before inviting anyone else in on it. Days later at her funeral it finally hit me, and I wanted to say to all the people I saw going about their normal lives, “Don’t you know my mother is dead?” I wanted them to bear witness to my loss and the passing of a wonderful human being. Fifteen years later after my father died we posted various things on Facebook in the days that followed and many, many people bore witness to his passing offering care and support to us.

To bear witness is defined in various places as follows:

bear witness – provide evidence for; bear witness to something- to show by your existence that something is true.

To me it relates a simple desire most human beings share: to be known and connected with other human beings. I perhaps notice this more fully because I live with no other humans and my canine companion doesn’t care about the same things I do. So even something as simple as watching an athletic contest by myself, I’ll say to the dog, “Oh my gosh, did you see that play?” She is generally underwhelmed by what’s happening on the television, but usually wags a friendly acknowledgment that I’ve spoken to her. We humans want to see, share, and connect with one another around the mundane–like an athletic or social event–or the profound, such as a national tragedy like the attack on the world trade centers or personal tragedies and losses that individuals experience. “Where were you when that happened? Did you see that? Can I tell you what happened to me?” We share solidarity in such moments, we connect with one another, we know and are known. That, in the end, is what we wanted and needed. And that is a beautiful thing.

“We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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