Witness to my Life December 2010We need a witness to our lives. There's a billion people on the planet... I mean, what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you're promising to care about everything. The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things... all of it, all of the time, every day. You're saying 'Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go un-witnessed because I will be your witness'." Beverly Clark in Shall We Dance
My family just celebrated my parents’ 60th wedding anniversary, which brought to mind this scene from the movie Shall We Dance. I keep thinking about what it means to be a witness to someone’s life for 60 or more years.
Our siblings are our first witnesses. They can testify to the early experiences—both good and bad. They can validate your memories of family traditions and major events. Remember the way Aunt Mary pinched our cheeks? How hard it was to move to a new country? Where the candy jar was at the local store? Some of us are fortunate enough to have life-long close relationships with siblings, but many have grown apart over time.
Then there are our life partners. I don’t doubt but that my parents have been each other’s chief companion, supporter, sharer of memories…and witness to life. No one else knows the peaks and valleys in a life better than a life partner who is your best friend. I remember the year that Scott and I realized that we had lived together longer than with any other person, including siblings and parents. After 35 years, we know each other far better than our families do. We have celebrated the joys of the births of our children, traveled, supported each other through job challenges and school, bought and renovated homes, done service projects, helped each other through emotional hurdles and health events. At times it has been rough, but we can look back now and know we got through them together. I think that being a witness to a shared life is part of what got us through those times. I know what you went through because I was there.
When I think of witnesses to my life, I also think of my female friends. I have a group of friends that has been gathering regularly for at least 20 years. We’ve laughed and cried through births, divorces, marriages, job changes, health events and more. One of my best friends is retiring and moving away at the end of this school year. We have known each other over 25 years, raised children together, shared vacations, carpools, and countless miles of walking (not to mention talking!). We have certainly shared the mundane, the spectacular, the good and the bad times. We can sense a lot without saying anything, and have shared things with each other that are hard to share with husbands. I will miss her deeply.
This experience gives me empathy for my mother and others who are experiencing deep sadness as her dearest friends are dying or disappearing into dementia and serious illness. These women were the witnesses to her life, the ones with whom she went to college, raised children, worked, worshiped, did service, and played for 60 years.
My mother has done a great job of replenishing her friendship network. She has a “lunch ladies” group of women at least 15 years younger, and has mentored and befriended many others. They are the witnesses to these later decades of her life. But I don’t think they fully replace the long-term friends. As we get nearer the end of our life journey, we often seek our legacy, the enduring mark we will make on the world. Our witnesses are the ones who have noticed what we have done.
Who are the witnesses to your life? Whose life have you witnessed? Have you told them how important they are in your life story?