This past weekend I went on a fun little road trip to Minneapolis with my three daughters. There were two moments from that trip that struck a cord with me:
1. I took my youngest daughter to see her favourite musician/Youtuber in concert. It wasn’t someone I had much interest in seeing, but she’s a little young to be in a music venue alone, so I bought an extra ticket and hung out at the fringes of the teenage crowd. Because this performer shared his coming out story quite publicly on his Youtube channel and now writes songs about that experience, he has developed a large following among GLBTQ youth. Probably at least half (maybe more) of the audience in the crowded room was from that community.
I was struck especially by three separate young men at the fringes of the room. They knew every word of every song and sang along with rapt attention. These were all young men who have probably spent much of their lives on the fringes – not finding a place of belonging because they don’t fit the stereotype of what a teenage boy is supposed to look like or who they’re supposed to fall in love with. And yet, in that room, they fit in and were accepted. They’d found a musician who was like them and therefore made them feel safe to be who they are. They belonged and they were witnessed.
It was a beautiful thing to witness – a space where teenagers who don’t normally fit in can find belonging. When the performer shared his coming out story from the stage, there was loud and prolonged applause. They were safe, they were affirmed, they weren’t the weirdos in the room.
2. My oldest daughter, a university art student, turned twenty while we were traveling, so in honour of her birthday, we spent much of Saturdayvisiting art galleries. In the Weisman Art Museum, there’s a unique interactive art installation that invites you through a doorway into the hallway of an apartment building. The hallway is silent until you lean on the apartment doors, and then you can hear what’s going on inside. There are six doors, and inside each one is a different soundscape. I was mesmerized and listened at every doorway.
Through one of the doors, the only sound is a woman weeping. That door was the most captivating to me and I could barely tear myself away. I was alone in the hallway for quite some time, so I stood leaning and listening. Though I knew it was only a recording on the other side of the door, I felt compelled to stand there and hold space for the woman’s tears, to bear witness to her grief even though she didn’t know I was there. Her tears represented so many of my own tears, so many of those times when I’ve cried alone behind a closed door.
Coming home with those two experiences reverberating in my heart, I am struck by the common threads that run through them…
There is inherent in all of us a longing for belonging, a longing to be witnessed.
Whether our stories are like those of the teenagers, seeking a space where they are not judged or ostracized, or like the woman (me) leaning on the door remembering her own lonely tears and how badly she wished someone had born witness to her in those dark moments, we long to be seen. We long to know we’re not alone, we’re not outsiders, we’re not locked away behind a door mopping up our own tears.
As I thought about those two moments, I was struck by another realization…
I have a responsibility to bear witness to others, to share my stories, and to let people know they are not alone. And you do too.
I am so grateful to that young performer who dared to speak his coming out story out loud. I am grateful that he found the courage to show those young people in the room that they are not alone in their fear, their isolation, and their “otherness”. I am grateful that, even in loud music venues, he is creating safety for young people to live authentic lives.
That’s the responsibility of each of us on this path to authenticity – to open our hearts to others, to bear witness to their pain, and to share the stories we feel called to share. Because when we share, we create safety for each other. We create belonging. We give them permission to be who they are.
Living authentically means living collectively. We make connections with each other through our shared stories and we find ways to heal together and create the more beautiful world our hearts are longing for.
Whether it’s the tears of grief and loneliness, or the fear of coming out, we all want to be seen.
One of the best ways I know of to be intentional about bearing witness to other people’s stories is to sit in circle with them. If you want to learn more about The Circle Way, I invite you to come to Winnipeg in May to join us in the circle.