Bearing Witness.

by Lori Dwyer on October 3, 2012 · 10 comments

I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or have become shriveled and closed from fear of further pain.
I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it, or fade it, or fix it.
I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand at the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, ’Yes.’
I want to know if you can get up after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to be the bone and do what needs to be done to feed the children.
I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.
If I were slightly more unhinged, I’d have this tattooed all the way up and down my thigh.

Continued from yesterday... just for this question, here.

“Is suffering a prerequisite to understanding suffering?”

Short answer…no.

Much longer answer… everyone, I think, or most people at least, know some form of suffering. Most of us have been in deep emotional pain at one point or another. Suffering is relative, as is reality. Or, as Dr Phil likes to say– there is no reality, only perception.

All of that only makes sense if I actually get to my point. Which is– you can’t compare pain. You can’t compare losing a husband to losing a baby to losing a parent. You can’t compare any of those to the torture of infertility or the horror of sexual abuse. Human suffering is not a quantitative factor– therefore, it can’t be a necessary facet of understanding the pain of others.

Or it is completely necessary to have suffered yourself in order to have compassion for those who are suffering– and all of us, just by being human, qualify.

If you know what I mean.

The sense of helplessness coming off people is a palpable, tangible quality that dogs the air when I can’t hold it anymore and crack with pain in the presence of others. I’ve discovered a sharp, definitive place where people differ– I know the personality trait that makes people Worthy or Unworthy in my eyes in this strange After–light.

It’s simply in the ability to bear witness, or not. To able to stay and watch as someone else, another human being, rails against the Universe and sobs from a place inside themselves that most of us don’t like to even think about, let alone poke around in.

I judge people on whether they leave, or stay. Whether they can sit with me, with this, with what’s happened, and bear the weight of it. If they can handle the knowledge that they can do nothing except be here, do nothing expect listen and bring me a not cup of sugary tea when it’s all done. If they can bear the knowledge that this is not a movie, this is not fiction… this is my life. My pain is real; and, for the most part, unfixable.

Or…. if they can not.

Being bereaved yourself can mean you have a whole level of insight into grief that others don’t, that you do know more instinctively than others what to say or what to do in any given situation. But having experienced grief doesn’t mean you understand it. And it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re any better at dealing with or being in the presence of someone else’s pain than the next random soul to wander through that person’s life.

I can say, in all honestly, I divide people in my mind into those that are ’real’ and those that are not. The people I respect, I do so because they have shown me that they can, if the universe requires it of them, sit on their hands and feel powerless and, for a short time at least, be OK with that.

That they’re not afraid to bear witness to the pain of another; if a witness, a bystander, someone to mark their tears on the ledger of human suffering, is all that other person needs.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

whatkatedidnext October 7, 2012 at 12:49 pm

Well said, as usual.<3


lizbethsa October 4, 2012 at 4:37 am

I did this too back when the awfulness happened.And sure enough, people ended up practically running away because they didn't know what to do. What surprised me is people that I barely knew stepped up and were there to hold me up in my time of despair. They were truly a god send.


Toni October 3, 2012 at 10:49 pm

Most people run away because they can not handle it. My real friends have stayed even when they had no idea what to do or say they at least acknowledged they didnt know what to do, but they still wanted to help me and be around for me. This is the minority though, the majority of people put these things in the too hard basket.

I find it quite ironic that my blog posts about the 'bad and uncomfortable' stuff in my life have actually had the most reads and yet in real life these are the things everyone has run away from. Maybe people feel protected when they can read about it from a distance and dont have to act upon it.

I have this uncanny instinct of how to react now too since all the crap things that have happened in my life. I dont truly understand why any of it happens though (obviously because I feel the need to write about everything and over analyse it a million times – if I understood it then I too could move on and ignore it like the others)

Great post Lori. You tap into the subconscious thoughts so well xx


Anonymous October 3, 2012 at 10:04 pm

Most true pain is unfixable….
Most people run far & fast from honest, raw, real expressions of pain. Even if they still appear to be there……


Ellen October 3, 2012 at 8:23 pm

Exactly. I think it is much easier to help and fix, than to just be with someone who is hurting. For myself when I am in the depths of depression with a pain that no one can fix, I pull away from the fixers because I feel like I'm letting them down by staying broken. All I want is someone who will be there, hear and acknowledge my pain.


Dorothy Krajewski October 3, 2012 at 5:55 pm

True. I do that too. Can people stay and bear witness to what I'm going through, or do they run and pretend I'm not here. Most people don't want to know or see the ugly stuff, as if I could help the ugly. It's just here, in my life, whether I like it or not.

Great post, Lori.


Amanda October 3, 2012 at 4:56 pm

I think it wasn't until I'd been in an unfixable situation, and lived the depression that can't be shaken off, can't be walked away from, that I knew the value of silently staying.

It's hard to watch a friend hurting themselves, walking day after day through the same problems that no amount of fixing fixes, that no amount of progress can indicate that one day this will be over and life will move on.

But I sure as hell appreciate the people who stand with me when I can't stand myself, so I know for sure: Being there means everything. Thanks for stayin.


Anonymous October 3, 2012 at 2:59 pm

I couldn't. I am not a person who could stand and bear witness to the pain, torture, and slow spiraling decent of a friend. I would like to think that this does not make me a bad person.

I lack the ability to be strong, not only for others but for myself as well. This doesn't mean that I don't love my pained friend or family member with every deep fibre of my being. My heart would ache for them, my mind ever occupied with worry for them and those around them.

I couldn't just watch. I would help in every way I can, in every way I could imagine. I wouldn't fade away. But I could not stand back and watch. I would inevitably say one of the many things you should not say. I couldn't forgive myself for inadvertently causing my dear one more suffering than they are already experiencing.

I struggle to accept your label of unworthy. I acknowledge my own emotional limitations – but it would hurt me to be considered less of a friend or family member because I could not accomplish for them the level of powerlessness I do not even allow myself.


Joy October 3, 2012 at 10:28 am

Thank you. Just… Thank you.


Jennifer A. Hall October 3, 2012 at 8:28 am

Thank you, thank you, thank you! You said this so very well, in a way that I couldn't articulate even in my own brain. I will share and quote you. (((HUGS)))


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