Thirty-two years is a long time to stand witness. In an earlier post, I mentioned my own conceptualization of family. I have a de facto brother, Ken. Once upon a time, on a pungent chemotherapy ward (as they were known then), one of my nurses walked into my room and asked if I would talk to the 17-year-old down the hall. He had, she said, the same type of cancer I did.
That evening kicked off something more than friendship. A brotherhood was formed, based on shared experience, and try as I might, I haven’t been able to shake the guy for three decades. Actually, I’m glad. He’s been a witness to many of the life-altering events of my journey. We have been closer, as one might imagine, than many biological brothers. His favorite pastime is to annoy me with his adolescent texts and phone calls, but I love the big Neanderthal.
There is a saying, “Don’t just do something—stand there!” Witnessing sometimes means just being a caring presence. Ken stood witness to my battle with cancer, particularly its aftermath. He watched the emotional and psychological toll it took on me. He witnessed my divorce and its recovery, and the powerful and meaningful existence I carved out with canines as a means of both theology and personal philosophy. He witnessed the metanoia (change of heart, as in “Change your hearts and lives, and believe in the good news!” from Mark 1:15, CEB) that I underwent as I responded to God’s call to seminary and professional ministry.
Twenty-one years after our struggle together in the trenches of cancer treatment, Ken was called to witness another medical challenge when he took precious time to travel to the North Carolina Mountains after I had a heart attack on a cold day in Asheville, where we lived. In more recent years, as my health would deteriorate, the phone would ring at the times when I was contemplating the meaning of a life of pain or, more importantly, whenever it was time for the Carolina Tar Heels to beat the hell out of the Duke Blue Devils (as happened recently).
When a major life decision or change is on the horizon, Ken calls. I mean, the guy has a sixth sense. His witness has meant a great deal for a long time.
Are you called to witness? Consider the upshot of giving testimony to the life of another. Think of the potential in good will, life-long relationship, memories, and harassing phone calls you may be in for. That’s the good stuff.
For whom are you called to witness?
How will the act of witnessing help you help someone else?
Give it a shot. The experience will probably change your lives for the better.