Bearing Witness

author/source: Laurie O'Neil

Hope CandleThis hope candle has been burning all day for a twenty-something-year-old named Max the Man Stone. A member of my church family, Max is waging war with lymphoma. The Big C. The game-changer none of us wants to ever encounter.

My pastor, Rev. Emily J. Kellar, hosted a Prayer Vigil for Max today, and my son and I humbly joined the Zoom call. 

Bearing witness...

Together. As a loving community. Finding and giving solace to each other in the really hard places. Opening our hearts and minds to the struggle and heartbreak of the Stone family.

Rev. EK read us a beautiful prayer from Mishkan R'fuah: Where Healing Resides, by Eric Weiss, then she invited each of us to light a candle of hope for Max who was facing yet another painful procedure on his journey to remission.

Driving to check on my 93-years-young Mom who's recovering from Covid, memories of all those who bore witness alongside my sister and her daughter when the Big C invaded their lives, suffused my being. Max’s parents were among them. Edging towards those excruciating moments in time with Jeanne and Terri, the tears flowed freely.

Photo Courtesy of Jack SharpSitting at a red light, I was reminded once again that my deepest solace and healing occurred when I joined with those around me and we bore witness to our pain together. 

Because bearing witness is sometimes the only thing we can do.

So many people did just that for Terri and Jeanne. For Terri’s daughter, Miss M. For me and for my whole family.

And it meant everything... 

Just as our showing up today meant everything to Max and his family.

Bearing witness invokes a sense of interconnectedness. Of oneness. A soothing reminder that we are not alone. By lovingly giving our attention to another, we offer that person the gift of being seen. Being witnessed. That what they are experiencing matters.

Bearing witness is also a vehicle through which we can take action. When our hearts are cracked wide open by the fragility of life, we are desperate to do something. During our prayer vigil, there were no words required. Just our physical, loving, compassionate attention.

So, I invite you to bear witness to Max the Man Stone and his family by holding them in your thoughts and prayers.

Together, we have the capacity to restore hope with and for each other during the tragic and tumultuous times in our lives. When we become truly intimate with another’s suffering, embracing their experience, we shine a light into their darkness, and ultimately, into our own.

Because in times of such searing sadness, there really aren't words or answers.

Just love.

So much love.

Laurie O NeilBIO:  Laurie O’Neil is a social worker, author, speaker, and writer who has devoted her 40-year career to enlightening, empowering, and engaging others in the critical power of loving connection. Co-author of Graceful Woman Warrior: A Story Of Mindfully Living In The Face Of Dyingand creator of the accompanying Grace Lessons WorkshopLaurie also contributes to the online magazine, Herself360 and has appeared on WJAR NBC 10’s Studio 10, NPR’s The Point, 95.9 WATD-FM’s Powerful Women Revealed, Cape Cod Writer’s Center’s, Books and the World, and the Engaging Voices, Positive News Now and Widowed Parent podcastsA graduate of Boston University, Laurie specializes in grief and loss, giving voice to the transformative and healing power found within our shared loss stories.