Bearing Witness

Dec 31 2010

“Marriage isn’t about romantic love.  It’s about bearing witness to someone else’s life.”

I was listening this week to a radio broadcast with Brian Doyle, author of The Wet Engine.  He credited his wife with that statement about marriage.

Bearing witness; it’s a thought that has come back to me over and over during the past few days because it strikes me as profoundly true.

It makes me think about bearing witness as a wife, a friend, a daughter, and a mother.

Marriage isn’t about what I get out of it.  It’s about bearing witness to my husband’s life.

Parenting isn’t about what I get out of it.  It’s about bearing witness to my children’s lives.

Friendship… well, you get the idea.

Namaste, a common greeting in India, is sometimes interpreted to mean, “That which is of God in me greets that which is of God in you.”  And, although I haven’t had time to see the movie, I keep hearing stories about Avatar, in which they greet each other by saying, “I see you.”

I find myself wondering… as I’m caught up in my daily minutia, how well am I seeing the people who are my life?  How well am I identifying pieces of God in them?

My son, Ian, is 11 years old.  We’ve been his parents for 7 1/2.

Ian has special needs.  His expressive language is severely delayed, and this year I watched his 4 year old brothers surpass his speech ability.  I don’t know yet how to express how that makes me feel.

Every day of Ian’s life, he struggles.  He fights to be understood.  What’s fairly easy for you and me — putting three or four words together and asking for what we need — is a puzzle for Ian.  Our neural pathways are direct; we think a thought, we say it aloud.  (Or sometimes, we think a thought and work hard not to say it aloud.)  Ian has to route his thoughts over the mountains and through the woods of his brain to have it come out garbled and often unintelligible.

Ian is my hero.  You know why?  Because he keeps on trying.

In Brian Doyle’s interview, he said that we tend to mistakenly think that life is about being strong.  It isn’t.  There are things that happen to us and to those we love that no amount of strength will overcome.  Instead, we endure.  We bear.  We last.

I suspect that one of the triumphs of life is in the endurance of it.

And that a triumph of relationships is in the privilege of bearing witness.

I’m not a huge advocate for New Year’s resolutions.  I don’t have anything against them.  I just rarely think I’ll have time to follow through on new and grand plans.  I mean, seriously folks, sometimes I don’t have time to bathe.  That should come first.

But tomorrow begins a new year.  It’s a natural time to reflect on the past and to think about what the future may bring.  Some moments will be fun.  Some will be funny.  Some will break my heart.  Of course they will.  I’m a mother.

Maybe I’ll give this whole resolution idea a go.  I’ll be honest; lack of time never really stopped me from doing anything else.

So these are my New Year’s resolutions, written as a letter to my children:

Dear Abby, Ian, Aden, Cai and Cael,

That which is of God in me greets that which is of God in you.

As we enter a new year again together, I want you to know that:

I resolve to see you.

I resolve to bear witness to your amazing and crazy lives.

I resolve to endure with you.

And I love you.  No resolution required.


Wishing you and yours a Very Happy New Year,