I mixed up a phrase the other day and was telling someone that I liked what I thought was the phrase of intentional witness. Really, the correct phrase that had been used was enlightened witness. I have also heard the term sacred witness and that fits too.
The more I have thought about it though, the more I like my phrase. It implies that someone makes a conscious decision to remain with you, often not through a joyous time, though that could be the case, but rather through a sacred time that holds pain and suffering. Many people will show up during the joyful experiences of life and that is wonderful. My focus is those who show up and hunker down during the painful moments, the moments that are easy to walk away from. These are the people in your life who intentionally decide to be with you, when you are not your best, when you need them the most, and when the outcome is unknown. You are scared and they provide a comforting presence. You have no words…and neither do they; they just are there. You are broken and so are they so they understand without trying to fix anything. What a pure gift!
When I look back over these many months, I know exactly to whom I would entrust the broken pieces of my spirit. Primarily, these people are women, but not exclusively. Some are family members–my brother and a cousin come to mind immediately. Many are long-time friends, but not all. A few hold a professional relationship such as doctor-patient. A good number are people of faith or who believe in some spirituality. Lots have been in that dark place of desolation themselves and therefore are familiar with the surroundings. In Ignatian-speak, a good majority know consolation in the hard spots.
Those who have reflected back to me my journey have used words that resonate, even if they surprise–words like grace, courage, and inspiration. I saw my family doctor today and we were talking about making an appointment for a complete physical check up. She asked when my last one was and I told her the exact date just as she pulled it up on the computer. I reminded her that the last physical was done on the day she delivered my results of the ultrasound and my world began to shift. In a few months, a year will have passed since then. I laughed because somehow I found that funny–that I was still here, still fighting and still moving forward positively. She got that look on her face when she is about to tell me that I am amazing but instead she laughed with me. She has been an intentional witness that I appreciate greatly.
Those folks who have gone to the scary appointments with me, who have not given up on me when I have not had the energy I normally have, who walked with me up and down hospital corridors, even when I smelled funny, who let me sleep on their couches when I suddenly get tired, who have let me cry when I cannot explain why–like the Safeway pharmacist when I pick up my anti-nausea drugs–these are the witnesses who make a decision to be with me through a present moment that is less than stellar. A friend sings me a happy song while the spouse makes me tea as I sit in their living room and cry. Another couple put me in a hammock and leave me there while I snooze. No judgment is passed as I ask someone tearfully to please let me give back to them for their immense kindnesses. Life is lived barefoot these days, as I stand on holy ground, shared with companions who deliberately risk staying at great emotional cost. I am in awe and ever so grateful.
When was the last time you knew that someone was choosing deliberately to be a witness to a difficult moment in your life?
Have you ever stayed with someone else, on sacred ground, while the pain was overwhelming?
Like the burning bush,
You send us someone
to show us You are with us.
The flames of the trial
could lap them up too
but still they remain
intent on witnessing
Blessed are we to stand
on such holy ground.