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Can I Get a Witness?

By Catherine Pavia

Henry and puzzlesLately my 3-year-old has been obsessed with puzzles. He lines them up every morning in order, beginning with the one he’s going to do first. He even gets out the 150+ piece puzzles–“Just to look at them, I promise,” he tries to reassure me. “I won’t dump them out.” (This is a New Year’s resolution he needs to work on.) As he painstakingly puts the pieces together, he wants me there next to him. Not to help. In fact, heaven help us all if I even think about putting a piece in its place. No, not to help, but instead to witness him putting the puzzle together. He wants me to sit by his side and encourage him when he can’t find a piece, praise him when he finishes a puzzle.

It shouldn’t surprise me that my son wants me there as a witness. After all, if I think about my own relationships, I highly value those in my life who validate my own struggles as struggles, who offer encouragement that I can indeed deal with them, and who witness my success when I manage to do so.

I’ve been thinking about that part of my role in life lately–the role of witness to others’ successes. It’s not one I have actively tried to take on, and I think I should. Sure, I sit at my kids’ sporting events and concerts and cheer as loudly as the next parent. But in our everyday lives, I don’t often take the time to act as a witness to my friends’, my spouse’s, my sibling’s, and even my children’s successes. It’s a role that I need to be more conscientious about taking on.

What about you: How has having a witness to your struggles and successes made a difference in your life or in the lives of those around you? Who do you turn to when you need a witness? How have you managed to act more conscientiously as a witness in the relationships in your life?
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About Catherine Pavia

(Prose Board) has worked as a cherry sorter, file girl, piano teacher, writer, editor, and college professor. She currently works full-time as the art director, events planner, chauffeur, and referee for her four children. She spends a good deal of her time running—be it down the supermarket aisle after an escaped child, around the living room in a heated game of flag football, or on early-morning runs/therapy sessions with her neighborhood friends. She earned her BA and MA in English from BYU and her PhD in English from UMass Amherst.

11 thoughts on “Can I Get a Witness?”

  1. One the one hand sometimes it doesn't feel like something happens unless I get to tell someone about it–the good, the funny, the bad.
    On the other hand, kids need to learn to pat themselves on the back.

  2. So this might sound strange, but I feel that I've had to stop calling on others to be a witness in my life and to be my own witness. We want others to witness our lives to validate them and to celebrate with us when the occasion calls for it, but my husband isn't always great at this. I can do it for myself and it feels liberating to not have to rely on others but to stand up for myself a little more.

  3. This reminds me of a lady who would sit on about the 3rd bench from the podium in Sacrament meeting while I was growing up. Whenever I would give a talk, she would be sitting there, smiling continually as if she were cheering me on. I would try to keep my eyes focused on her because she was so encouraging, and I was so scared.

  4. This is a lovely idea. Thanks for writing.

    Life has always seemed to me like an impossibly beautiful, intricately woven tapestry (thanks, Carol King.)

    Many times another person's witness of my life beomes a thread in the design. This witness-this thread-feels holy, essential, binding.

    Witness is a powerful thing. For the giver and for the receiver.

  5. I work with older adults, and there is real power in witnessing to their lives. Too often older adults (particularly those 85 plus) become isolated from the larger society because of mobility problems and other health challenges. When they talk to me, they often perform a "life review," which helps them put the entirety of their lives in perspective. And then I benefit by vicariously walking in their shoes for a time. I've been vicariously experiencing life on wheat frams in rural Kansas during the 30s and 40s recently. It's the same feeling I get when reading a book. I benefit from another's life journey. It's a real win-win.

  6. I teach piano lessons and LOVE doing this almost every lesson. One student in particular thinks she isn't very good, and every week, she knocks it out of the park. I love being able to say, "Look at what you just did." Or going back to the beginning of the book and say, "Remember when this was hard?" I love being able to show them how much they've grown.

    Sometimes it's hard for me to not cry about it, because some of these kids I teach (both piano and in public school) get so beat up in other areas of their lives, that they just expect to fail EVERYWHERE. And then they succeed and it makes me so happy for them. I like to pretend I have a heart of stone sometimes, but I'm really a big sap.

  7. I liked this idea. I think witnessing for others with pure intent (humbly) is a way to serve them. And that helps bring the spirit. I have also struggled with the fine line between witnessing for someone else and feeling self-critical for perceived shortcomings. Perhaps the key is applying the humble-factor with oneself, too. Thanks Catherine! ♥

  8. This was an excellent reminder to me that I need to be a witness for my husband. He is a very capable man, but really didn't get pats on the back from his parents growing up. It wasn't a negative, cutting environment, just a void of praise and acknowlegment. It's easy, with a person as accomplished as he is, to forget that he needs a witness to his successes, but oh how he does. He needs them desparately as an adult, especially since he missed out on them as a kid.

    I guess it's a double reminder to me. To validate him now, and to validate my children now, while they are young, so they feel secure and loved.

  9. I think it is great when we can shine the spotlight on each other in life! I love the thought of your three-year-old lining up his puzzles and even wanting to admire the 150 piece puzzles. It is sweet to hear how he loves a witness.


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