A witness to your life

In the next several weeks here I am going to do something different in this column. I am going to present occasional excerpts from a transcript of a Conversations with God Spiritual Renewal Retreat that took place in October, 2012 in Medford, Oregon. I can think of no better way to give you an idea of one approach to interpreting the CWG material than by showing you how it is interpreted by me for participants in such an event.

Below, then, is an excerpt #1 from this CWG retreat, in which I welcome the participants into the room. It offers a wonderful invitation — not only to the people who were in that room, but to everyone who is gathered here, at this website.


NEALE: Welcome to the space.  You’ve traveled so far to be here, not just in miles, but in years and moments.  Each of us journey along the highways of our life, and here we are in this perfect moment, perfectly situated, perfectly prepared, perfectly ready for perfection itself to visit our lives at last.

There is more going on here than meets the eye.  And by “here,” I don’t mean in this room.  I mean in life, for most people.  And every so often a chosen few — and it’s usually a handful really, a veritable handful of people — decide to gather together in one place to look at what’s going on, out of a thought that sometimes, once in a while, looking at it together with some others who are on the same journey can be more productive and bring us greater insights, in some cases bringing those insights to us faster and in a more impacting way, than if we continue traveling alone on our path.

So we find that from time to time it feels good to join together with others who are on the same journey, even if they may not define the journey or describe it in exactly the same way, but we know broadly in the largest sense that they’re on the same journey, this journey through life.  But the journey is more than the journey through life from birth to death, from my awareness.  A great more than that.  We’ll talk about all of that during this retreat.

Of course, people have historically gathered like this. We’ve gathered around campfires at the very beginning. Not just family and kin, but increasingly as our experience of life went on, others who we joined at the campfire, so that we might share experiences, so that we might say to each other: How has it been for you?  This is how it is for me.  What’s true for all of us?

We say this to each other in a struggle, a fight, to find common ground, and out of common ground, common understanding — because it is when we find common ground that we share a common experience which gives us a common understanding.

And that common understanding is what binds us together and allows us to move forward as a species, as a culture, and thus to know ourselves as a culture in a way that only the sharing of the individual members of that culture could possibly create.  So your story and mine are very important.

They are the keys that unlock the mystery of life itself.  The challenge is getting to know that story; your story and mine.  People interestingly enough don’t want to share their story often.  They think they’re either wasting the time of others, or perhaps they’re embarrassed about it or they don’t have all the answers yet, or they don’t want to look bad, or they’re too hurt by the story and it brings up too many damaging or hurtful memories.

For whatever the reason, we largely keep our story to ourselves, and perhaps we share it with one or twos others, maybe with our beloved other with whom we’re going through life,  a dear companion or partner or lover, and perhaps with a close friend as well.  But the number of people who know our story in many cases can be counted on one hand.

There was a wonderful movie a few years ago, Richard Gere was in it, called Shall We Dance?  And in the film, there was a wonderful scene.  I won’t bother going through the whole scenario with you, but there is a scene in the film where a woman is sitting at a table with a private detective, and she’s hired the private detective to follow her husband. She’s convinced he’s having an affair because he’s gone every Tuesday and Thursday night on a regular basis after work and he was always saying to her, “Well, I had to work late,” or whatever.  But she caught him at one point.  She called his office, he wasn’t there, and all of that.  So she thought, well, rather than confront him with what I don’t know about this, I’ll find out.

So she hired a private detective.  And he follows her husband.  Then he finally ‑‑ the scene in the movie is that she’s meeting him at a restaurant for lunch and he’s got the photographs of her husband going in and out of places.  He’s been trailing her husband for weeks.  He says, “I don’t know how to tell you this because your husband is not having an affair.  And I hate to ruin the surprise.”  She says. “What surprise?”  He says, “Well, he’s been taking dancing lessons. He wants to learn how to ballroom dance because you’ve always wanted him to be a ballroom dancer with you and he was clumsy and didn’t know how to do it. So for your 25th anniversary, he wanted to take to you a ballroom dancing competition and show you how you guys could win it.” It turns out that the wife was a very good dancer and she just needed a partner.

So he was gone every Tuesday and Thursday night for months to this dance class.  And the private detective has got pictures of him going in and out of the class and so forth.  Now, he says, you must let him have this surprise.  You can’t let him know that you know.  She said, of course not.

But I always remember the scene in the movie, not for that content so much, but for a single line in the picture that in a sense almost devastated me when I heard it, because it was so impactful.  She says to the private detective, you must have been hired on a hundred of these surveillance things by spouses who think their other is cheating on them.  He says, “Yeah, I have.  It kind of makes you cynical about marriage and the whole trip.”

This spurs her to say, “Why do you think people get married anyway?”  And the detective gives, well, you know, a variety of reasons.  “I’ve been looking at it for 25 years.  Sex, companionship, bring an end to loneliness, have a partner to carry the load.” He gives all the answers you would expect to hear.

She say, “I don’t think that’s the reason.”  He then asks, “What do you think the reason is?”  She replies, “I think people marry so that they can have a witnesses to their lives.”

That’s got to be one of the great movie lines of all time. The wife goes on, “People want, they need, someone who saw it all, the worst of it, the best of it, the highs and the lows, the struggles, the losses, and the victories.  Someone who saw it all happen to them, so that their experience doesn’t have to be questioned in their own mind…like, is any of this real?”

So I observe that people gather around and gather together in many of the  places where other people collect: Sunday services, Saturday events, Friday night gatherings at the temple or at the synagogue or at the church or in many other places…the corner tavern, and so forth…to see if there is some way they can share and create a common experience, and be witness to each other lives.

These moments are precious and few, representing a tiny percentage of the number of days and hours and minutes in your life, when you look at these moments on a percentage basis.  Most of the time we’re in our mind, and more or less by ourselves.

Don’t miss any opportunity, then, that you have created to explore together the common ground we all share; to witness each other lives.  Let us know your story.  Let us know about your ups and your downs, your challenges and your victories.

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