Friday, September 26, 2008

BlissQuest: Who are Your Helping Witnesses?

Even with the damage, this tree grows strong
in the park a half block from our house
(which happens to be in the middle of the street).

Listening to: Someone a bit older than me (cough) recently said that 80's music sucked. Such generalizations! So here's something early 80's that simply didn't.

Bliss: Yesterday morning, Marcy and I fed a very large grasshopper a dandelion. Very cool. Then we went out back and were sitting around when high in the sky -- a hawk? A heron? What? It turned out to be a BALD EAGLE. Oh my! About two years ago, we had the first nesting pair in these parts in many, many years -- on the Peninsula -- and they've returned each year since then and now we saw one over our house. Awesome.

When I was about 15 years old, my Great-Aunt Ardelle passed away. My sister and I always thought the adults around us were calling her "Our Delle," which made sense to us. Everyone who knew her wanted her to be theirs and theirs alone. She was the most nurturing human being I had ever met, and I was aware of this even when I was young.

Delle was always ready for you when you came for a visit. And she would be ready for you in very specific ways. For one, she would stock up on your favorite foods. One of my fondest memories is going upstairs to her kitchen -- her second kitchen since they lived in a flat but they lived on both floors -- opening her big, fat, old refrigerator that was set back into the wall -- and finding those little aluminum cans of Swiss Miss chocolate pudding. My favorite. (And they never tasted the same once they put it in plastic.)

She always encouraged me to eat a second one when we were alone. She knew I loved them, and she knew it was not looked upon with favor at my house -- this eating for the joy of eating, this eating with relish, with abandon.

She would put out big dishes of M&M's and laugh if you tried to resist.

I would spend nights there when I was very small, and as I lay on the davenport (the special word that I thought only Delle used for "couch"), I would watch the lights of the cars from down below as they washed over the ceiling of the room.

Every single thing about her house was special to me: the big claw footed tub; the lack of focus on a TV; the very large stereo cabinet on which she would play old records; the china cabinets -- two giant ones -- filled to the brim with all her dishes and glasses and trays; the gardens outside; the begonias along the side of the house; the way we could walk to stores only blocks away.

But all of this was special, because she was: the way she laughed so hard and so loud; the way she sat, so unladylike, not caring about anything but comfort; the way she talked to me like I was a real person.

And that was the main thing: the way she talked to me, the way she saw me.

Dell saw me.

The real me. When I would sing a song that I made up on the spot, she would tell me to sing some more. When I told a story, she asked questions that showed how much she really listened. When I drew, she didn't just say "that's nice," but she really looked and then talked to me about why I did what I did.

Shortly before she passed away, I was visiting her with my family. We were sitting in the very formal front room on the second floor. A room I still think of when I think about what it is to have style.

She asked me out of the blue what I thought I wanted to be some day, and with my parents there, my throat closed; I didn't like lying to Dell, but how could I expose my heart to my mother and father? I told her I didn't know.

She blinked and said, "Oh, I just thought you'd be a singer."

This memory still has the capacity to make me almost cry. (A big deal for this non-crying soul.)

Dell saw me.

Many years later, as I tried to be the me that she saw, the real me that she so clearly identified, so easily loved, years later as I worked through all the crap, I figured out that she was a large part of the reason that I was okay.

In psychology, they call My Delle a "helping witness." Amidst all the fear and sadness that was my life at that time, Delle was a light, a beacon, a guide. She showed me that there was another way to be in this world.

Most importantly, Delle taught me -- through words and actions -- that I was a real person.

The role of helping witness, psychologists say, is the differentiating factor between someone who doesn't make it and someone who does. The helping witness reinforces the capacity for resilience. So to say that Dell saved me is not an overstatement.

Who was your helping witness? I assume if you are reading this, if you are at this blog, that you are looking, searching, seeking...and all those things tell me you are one of the resilient ones.

So who taught you that about yourself? Do some digging. But I bet you think of it pretty quickly.

There's often more than one. But sometimes not. Luckily, all it takes is one.

Whether that helping witness is still in your life or not, is there something you can do to honor them? Some sort of shrine or memorial you could create?

Every year, I plant begonias for Dell -- her favorite flower. But I think, maybe, I need to do more...


Sacred Suzie said...

She sounds absolutely amazing. And it is so rare for someone to really see you. I know how much it means to me when that happens, I try to do that for others. It happened with Tori Amos once, knocked me off my feet. I'm not entirely sure she's human, I think she is all fairy. Saw right into my soul.

I'm glad you have had this person in your life, it's very healing isn't it?

treehousejukebox said...

I love this post! This is very beautiful.

And it's also very inspiring.

Stacylo said...

This post brought back a flood of memories of my grandmother (We all called her Nan). Nan saved me. She made part of my life normal, while the rest of it was in chaos. I was lucky to have her until I was 36. She was the best soul I've ever known, or will know. I miss her deeply everyday. I usually have a cup of tea in her honor daily. (She and I shared many cups of tea over the years). Thanks for this post, even though it brought a tear to my eye!


Lisa said...

That's so touching - somewhere your Our Dell is smiling as you wrote this.

differenceayearmakes said...

Well, drat I lost my comment..but that won't stop me

As someone just told me....


"Our Delle" is so proud of you I know.

Pass it on.....

And I like the idea of a shrine to act as a reminder of my helping witnesses...I'll have to give its creation some thought....

nollyposh said...

~i had a teacher in high school
who taught me that the world that i saw with my eyes
wasn't necessarily how the world actually was
he told me how a 'snake' sees the world... to snake the 'world' was waves of heat...
i've never forgotten that...
he opened my mind~

Caroline said...

I love this post. I didn't really have a helping witness. However, it makes me want to be a helping witness to my daughters. I was mindful today as my oldest needed someone to "listen" without judgment. Thank you!

Bob Weisenberg said...

Wonderful. I loved reading this.

Bob W.