Bearing Witness

August 7, 2009

I sit with people who are sitting with their grief.  I don’t consider myself to be a counselor, though I have a piece of paper that certifies me as one.  I am someone who bears witness.

The people who call on me know this, and so they come without expectations that I will take their pain away.  This frees them to share the mystery of transformation into which their pain has plunged them.  It can be a relief for them to be with someone who is not trying to fix them, someone who can share the awe they are experiencing in the face of the Mystery.

Sometimes I find that a profound loss in the life of an acquaintance turns them into a heart-friend.  This happened to me recently with Cliff, a local roofer and environmental activist.  Cliff is a neighbor of my mom’s in the rural Arroyo Hondo valley where I grew up.  Last winter, Cliff’s wife of thirty years, Vadan, died of cancer, after a ten-year dance with disease and healing and surrender.

Vadan’s death — the courageous and conscious way she approached her dying — changed Cliff.  The rush of spirit that accompanied the participation of an entire community who gathered to breathe with Vadan through her final few days, remaining to prepare her body with herbs and sacred poetry after her life had ended, changed Cliff.

But more than anything, it was Cliff’s own commitment to be still and show up completely for the experience of his wife’s transition that seemed to quietly set Cliff’s heart on fire and burn away whatever separated him from a direct and complete connection with all life.  This dismantling left Cliff in love with all that is, alternately drawn to deep silence and passionate connection.

Sitting with Cliff brought me into the living presence of that love, and I wept with him as he tearfully confessed to the miraculous beauty that was unfolding in the wake of his loss.  In having been shattered myself, I am not afraid of the shattering of others.  And, in stepping into that fire as a witness, I find myself blessed again and again.