1 Bearing Witness | Traveling Light Blog by Travel Writer Colleen Friesen

Bearing Witness


Part of Speech: verb

Definition: vouch for

Synonyms: attest, confirm, corroborate, demonstrate,depose, evidence, evince, prove, show, testify to.


“When one tugs on a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.” – John Muir


Students at Virginia Tech hold a candlelight v...

There is a reason all cultures hold vigils.

Sometimes it is all we can do in the face of something so much larger than us. We stand collectively holding our little lights, offering the only thing we have to offer – our presence, our noticing, our compassion.

But bearing witness is something that needn’t wait until there is a large-scale catastrophe. Instead, it something we can practise on a daily basis. Bearing witness is the gift we give our friends, our partners, or anyone we meet.

It is the present we give of our presence.

Day of the Dead - Colleen Friesen

Now, it should be noted here, that I have often felt that I had all the answers. Go ahead, ask me what you should do with your life and I could give you a play-by-play directive. I don’t think I’m alone in this smug knowing. I think many of us are guilty of knowing how everyone else should live their lives.

But as I get older, a lovely uncertainty is enveloping me. I’m finally realizing that, a) I know jack shit, and b), I have only one thing I can truly give my friends and myself. And that is my ability to bear witness.

Why else do we do sit beside someone’s hospital bed while they doze in and out of their delirium? Or silently sit beside a grieving friend? Or make eye contact with the homeless man? Or sit in the waiting room while our friend gets unwelcome medical news?

By the act of bearing witness, we are validating their/our experience. Simply by being there and compassionately noticing…

We are not judging them or telling them a more correct way to be happy or unhappy. We are not telling them how they should grieve and we are certainly not telling them what we think they need to know.

And though it sounds easy. It is very hard. Because all the situation demands is that we shut up with all our great answers, and instead, simply be fully present.

We must show up and bear witness. By my presence, I am saying that you matter, that I am here to testify to your existence.

Being human takes a little practise. Bear with me…

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4 Responses
  1. Karen Gamble says:

    And the reason for bearing witness, is to deliver LOVE in the present. Love bears all things, and eases the moments that may seem unbearable. Being present, being Love is my greatest gift to share and my reason for being alive.
    Thanks, Colleen for the chance to complete the wheel of thought on this one.

  2. Colleen Friesen says:

    Thank you Karen, for taking it full circle. Being present is love and love is being present. I’m smiling.

  3. Catherine says:

    How true you are Colleen. You encompass it all by the phrase “By the act of bearing witness we are validating their/our experience”. Being there for someone who needs us. I like it when you mentioned looking at a homeless person, you validate his/her experience of life, saying that he/she matters. He is not ignored. He is still part of humanity.

  4. Colleen Friesen says:

    Catherine, thanks for picking up on not ignoring the homeless. I read somewhere about a politician or someone like that, who made himself homeless for one month. He tried to really experience it and what he noticed the most was how he felt like he ceased to exist. Everyone that walked by him deliberately avoided eye contact. That really stuck with me.
    I don’t often give money (though I now give food tokens) but I try to make sure to make eye contact and say hello. The gratitude that is often returned to me by that simple effort is humbling.

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