I am trying to clean off my desk; I mean truly clean off my desk.  So I decided to take today and not get distracted and really make that happen.  But then while eating breakfast,  I read an Op-Ed article (1) by one of the original freedom riders, Bernard Lafayette, Jr. talking about his experience of the witness of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


Last Friday, my cousin Michael, gave a wonderful eulogy (2) for his father which connected with so many of us at the funeral as Michael witnessed for us his experiences of my uncle.  It was Michael’s witness that made the eulogy so real and thus got inside of us.

Again, witness.

And for a few weeks now, I have been thinking about a particular form of witness that is powerful, common, and more or less invisible. So the heck with the desk…..

I call them “witness statements.” They are statements that land in deep places within us. Not because they are so incredibly true – they may in fact be completely untrue – but because of whom they come from.  This week’s episode on “The Criminal Minds” spinoff was about a girl who wore a whole head mask because her father had convinced her that her face had become too disfigured to look at (as a result of him burning her years earlier.) In point of fact, her face had healed fine. But she believed him – she believed a complete and obvious untruth – because he was her father.

We give credibility to those whom we are surrounded by, especially when we believe that they care about us.  What they say then, apparently, does not get screened by our truth/error filter that we might ordinarily use. What just popped up in my head are the airport screeners. Once we are past them, there is no longer any searching for or fear of, say, weapons.  Everyone we are surrounded by, at that point, has been screened for safety.  We can trust them.

This deep power to witness, then, which belongs to each of us within our own worlds puts a tremendous responsibility upon us to take great care to identify truthfully what we are witnessing.  Not what we are feeling – the great American be-all and end-all – within us, but what we are seeing within the other. That means also that we have to develop our ability to see.  That ability to see – go back to the op-ed article and to the eulogy – is pretty much the sine qua non of being able to witness to truth.

I realized that with Ted (see earlier posts) my job is first to get past his screening so that I become a witness in his head; so that what I say lands deeply within him. And then I need to witness to that which I see, about his wholeness, his blamelessness, and his essential goodness in an attempt to overweigh (word?) the witness messages he has been left with by his abandoning, betraying “parents.”  And then I need to witness to his personal importance to me to overweigh the witness messages all kids in residential treatment get just by being in residential treatment, being dealt with only by assigned staff. That last walks a line that I too often fall over, as I did e.g., when I met Ricky and then ended up with so many kids. So, as a professional, I do not really cut it [and my salary – 😦 – witnesses to that.]  But, to leave a person – any person – with no personal witness that (s)he matters for their own sake, is, from my perspective, to leave a person with neither food nor water.

Nay, and far worse, it is to leave them without oxygen.



I don’t know why you can simply click on the link to the Times, but not on the link to Facebook. But, no matter what, these are the addresses.  I tested them.

1. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/20/opinion/20Lafayette.html?_r=1&ref=opinion

2. http://www.facebook.com/notes/mike-brennan/my-dads-eulogy/10150249891388420

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Oxygen

  1. Lisa says:

    How does bearing witness to something differ from simply observing something? Witnessing (in the sense you are referring to) seems much more powerful but I can’t exactly figure out why.

    Once again, a meaty blog giving me things to think about.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s