Discover more from Eye Witness
when a line cast for one blessing catches another.
In our goal- and outcome-oriented world, sometimes there are great blessings in the unintended outcomes. When I began writing the bat chronicles - this series of stories about encounters with bats - there were two intended outcomes:
to write a post regularly
to tell the stories of my encounters with bats, and in so doing perhaps process, unpack and dismantle my epic deep fear of bats
Perhaps the best unintended outcome I’ve had from these stories is
the chance to see how tossing this particular stone into the community story pool would cause a ripple effect of shared stories
So my first bat story generated a reminder of a story I had forgotten. That story reminder came from someone who lived in the same house as I did, when the forgotten bat incident happened! My posting jogged my friend, Ange’s memory, and in that communally held memory another story was unearthed.
Stories, our eye-witness accounts if you will, connect us all to common denominators that may be subject-material, thought processes or simply resonant reflections. As I write here on this substack portal, I am trying to discern for myself what (if anything) I am really hoping to build here.
The substack title, “Eye Witness”, is a bit of a play on “I Witness” … and even more so a connection to the Greek word, μαρτυρέω, martureo meaning to bear witness, or testify. The two things, bearing witness and testifying can be very different in nature.
We bear witness to the experiences of others by listening, paying attention to their stories, refraining from the temptation to cue our responses up but rather remaining fulling present to them: holding space. This has become almost a lost practice in many human contexts. Polarization, and responding to someone’s story with one’s position seems to be the common norm.
Bearing witness is about holding space:
I see/hear/recognize your experience. Maybe this includes recognizing the courage, bravery, inner demons you had to fight to tell of your experience.
There is a sacredness in your experience, to which I am open, even if it may vary vastly from my own experience.
When the time comes, I will share what I know of your story.
A report is provided that can be presented for examination.
Either I will report on what I have seen and experienced, I will testify of my own experience.
Or, I will testify to what I know of another’s story, of another’s experience.
So it was, that when the pandemic came upon us in 2020, each and every one of us experienced it in a way that was refracted through our prior life context: social, financial, racial, gender/sexual orientation, family history, trauma history. All of these ingredients became part of the personal gumbo that the pandemic confinement cooked up. Sticky, rich with story. In that gumbo, those of us who church (the verb, not the noun), sought out places where we could effectively church online.
In that seeking, my path crossed the past of a fellow seeker, his name is John. This John joined our ZOOM worship services after some email exchange with me, if I remember correctly, about one of the sermons I prepared for our website/youtube platform - because we warmed up to ZOOM worship slowly at the church I was with at the time.
Towards the end of my time with that church, St Peter’s in Cambridge, I wrote a series of stories for Lenten study. They came with home work. John faithfully responded in writing to all the homework assignments. When I resigned from St Peter’s, to take a job in the supportive housing industry, mid-pandemic, John, Parker and I actually met and went for a walk. There I learned John and his wife Lisa together had interests in two of my passions: affordable/supportive housing and writing. We’ve exchanged many a thoughtful email since that hike. When I moved to the Saugeen (Bruce) Peninsula, our communications waned a little.
John and I witnessed with/to/for each other. We held that sacred space to hear and be heard.
When I began writing on substack, John was one of the first to subscribe. Then, a few weeks ago, after beginning the Bat Chronicles, I happened into a bakery in Cambridge for some free wi-fi and breakfast pastry. Who should happen in behind me but John and a friend. They had met, quite by chance. They had shared a common experience: both having gone through a life-changing medical procedure. They shared a recovery room. They had continued to meet when they left the hospital. John and his friend witnessed with/to/for each other - providing a sacred space to hear and speak aloud the coming to terms with their healing journey.
John introduced me to his friend as a writer. That felt good! And he mentioned that I had been writing a series about encounters with bats. He bore testimony of my project, in public. Testimony can have a snowball effect. In a public setting, it can cause uninvolved parties to engage. This happened with a man I did not know, who sat at a table behind John. He was alone, and he told us he used to catch bats.
(I mentally steeled myself, fully anticipating the “they are harmless, nature’s wonders, eat so many insects, have been dying out, you really shouldn’t be scared they are more afraid of you than you could ever be of them yadda yadda”).
But the newcomer to our discourse offered an entirely different testimony as he told how he liked to go fly fishing and sometimes dusk would catch him at it.
when swung in that arc
to be cast in that dusk
would sometimes so-well imitate a fly
that a bat would try to catch it.
Instead of catching a fish (or even successfully casting for a fish), this guy would find himself wrangling a bat off his hook.
(Here I won’t go into the myriad ways the thought of taking a bat off a hook makes me writhe with heebie-jeebie terrors, because that is not what bearing witness is about. It is less about my own reactions than it is about holding the open space for the story to be told. To see what other than the expected may get caught on the other end of the line.)
With permission, I share his story here.
His story is why I tell my stories … because sometimes when we cast our lines out, something happens, something gets caught even before the line hits the water. Paying attention with each other, being present for each other gives us cause to notice the things that have got caught, which we otherwise might totally miss. Eye witness as a means of bearing testimony to presence.
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