“Maybe the job of a mother is not to shelter but to bear witness as a child hits full force… and then to cushion the fall when it’s over.”
Every now and then, I catch myself reading a piece of fiction, following along in the story, enjoying the ride, and WHAM! I’m stopped by the author’s words in such a way that the story falls to the side and in front of me lies the mystery of an unfolding lesson. Jolted awake in such a way, my hand automatically reaches out for the highlighter on the nightstand beside me, before I’m aware of its movement.
There is a lesson to explore. Perhaps about me as the child I was, or me as the mother I am. Most definitely a lesson about human nature.
As I read the above thought, which came from the mind of Mariah, the protagonist in Jodi Picoult’s book, Keeping Faith, I was reminded of my mother, with a similar first name: Mari.
Growing up, Mari did not bear witness. No. She swooped in and rescued, protected, anything she could so her children would not feel pain. She was (and still is) a woman of action. Similar to many mothers of that generation, as well as many I know today. Truth be told, I’m sure I do the same thing with my boys more often than I’d like to admit.
As mothers, as friends, as one human to another, isn’t that our tendency? To want to fix, to rescue, to give unsolicited advice, to share our story in response to another’s pain, in an effort to connect and offer our help? Isn’t it our nature to want to show our support? All the while, holding the best of intentions, hoping upon hope that at the end of the conversation, we will have massaged it out sufficiently that our beloved’s pain would be eased?
But, what if we try something new – just to shake things up? What if we choose to bear witness to another? Meet them where they stand, honor who they are and what their story is at that moment, and SEE them with no attempt to fix or to solve?
“To bear witness: to show by your existence that something is true.”
I must admit, this isn’t easy to do. And in all honesty, it’s not always appropriate* either. But I’ll also share that in a raw moment, when what you need most is to be seen and heard, when another bears witness to you, to your experience, it’s one of the most sacred gifts you’ll ever receive.
*[Regarding appropriateness, whether or not it's a good idea to jump in and try to solve versus not, here's a good rule of thumb: if you know the person typically asks for help/advice when they need it and they AREN'T asking for it, DON'T give it. This would be a perfect time to give them the gift of bearing witness.]
And yes, sometimes after bearing witness to another, there comes the time to then “…cushion the fall when it’s over.” How incredibly strong and empowered the person (the child) must feel knowing that they tried and someone was there to attest to their brave act! After the trial, did you feel it was a success? Great! You have someone there to celebrate with you!! Did you feel it was a failure? Great! You have someone there to celebrate YOU and your strength, your resilience, your tenacity!!
Under the right circumstances, bearing witness to another is a kind, gentle, loving act. And a tough one, too. When I get it right, and it’s with no small effort on my part, but when I manage to get it right with my children, I feel as if Grace has just been taught.
During this week, find it within yourself to bear witness to another. It doesn’t require any words. It doesn’t require any overt gesture. It only requires your presence for another. “To show by your existence that something is true.”
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