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witness

years ago, i was in a work meeting and literally told to be silent while a decision about a service i ran was communicated to the rest of our division. it was highly contentious and the fact that i was told to sit silent among my colleagues was…heartwrenching. i recall us all sitting in a circle (how ironic!) and purposely looking around that circle in hopes of catching the eyes of those i worked with so that i could feel…well, to be honest…more whole. no one would look at me. all eyes were on the floor and no one spoke. no one spoke to me after the meeting or for the rest of the day. that silent response hurt more than anything.

a day later, a friend and colleague who was in that room texted me. the message simply read something along the lines of “i see you.” thank you, leisan smith. i’m sure you didn’t realize then how much those words meant to me…how i still carry them with me today.

a lesson in the power of being witnessed.

the ninth commandment is “thou shalt not bear false witness.” my interpretation of this wisdom has evolved, understanding the importance of acknowledging other living beings and their truths. how easily it is to miss it; how easy it is to turn away, to forget, to fail to witness.

witnessing allows for re-membering. the act of witness conjures a sense of belonging. it undoes the myth of isolation and separation and disconnection. to witness is to proclaim an other’s divine humanness. it is to say i hear this story and receive it and there is more to your story.

that’s what leisan’s text expressed to me: that she heard the shit, saw the shit, and that i was not alone in that shit. and…i was not defined by that shit, either. she reminded me i was more. she helped me to remember who i was.

how can we bear witness to the world around us? to the suffering and the joy and the life/death of it all? how can we bear witness so that we don’t forget?

and how might we allow ourselves to be witnessed? to be vulnerable and messy and wholly human in the presence of those around us? giving up our addiction to plans, answers, expertise, “having it all together”?

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