Seeing others and being seen

It’s simple really.

When I was 4 John Ward became my best friend.

Imaginary friend, mind you, but friend none the less.

We spent hours together, talking about the world and planning the next adventure. Inseparable, we spent the days as a formidable pair. Imaginary friends are like this. Adaptable and ready for anything.

My parents let it slide. No lectures getting me back to reality. Figuring perhaps that at age 4 this was my natural state. After all, a child’s imagination should be cared for, not crushed.

Then one day I proposed a dilemma.

I approached my mother and let her know that finally, after many months, I would stay over at John Ward’s house. John Ward after all could not always come to my house to play. Friendship needs to have a little equity. Time now to see where the other half lived.

My mother paused for a moment, not sure what to do next. How far should she go with this? Up until now, my imaginary friend John Ward (yes I always referred to him by his full name) served more as a phase than anything else. Something that would clearly pass and dissolve away after a time. Many children went through such a process with imaginary friends.

I seemed to be taking it up a level though – to the “my child is seeing dead people” realm of things.

No stranger to pushing the edges herself, my mother went along with it. “Alright”, she said, “when do you have to be there?”

I gave her the time and said I could direct us there. I packed a small bag and soon we drove off down the driveway to an unknown location. My father shared with me that I gave her directions without pause or hesitation. Take a right here. Go about a mile. Turn left and go for two blocks. This confidence made my mother all the more curious, and a little nervous, as to what would happen next. She did not feel a game being played by me, but that truly I had somewhere to go.

Soon we drove up to a large house. I looked at my mother and said, “this is it.” She asked when I wanted to be picked up the next day and I said I would call.

I got out of the car and walked up to the front door of the house, bag in hand.

My mom waited, unsure what would happen next. She prepared herself for the owner of the house to open the door. She prepared herself for a portal to the other world to open and I to venture through. Frankly she figured anything might be possible.

I stood at the door for some time. Just staring at it. She could not see my face and was unsure how I might be relating to that moment. Then, I turned around and came back to the car. I got in and said that John Ward needed to cancel the sleepover for the night. His plans changed and it would need to be another time. I seemed calm despite the slight sadness of not being able to stay over.

We drove home quietly.

And I never mentioned John Ward again.

Even a couple of years later when my sister dated someone named John Ward (yes proceed to get goose bumps) I did not respond to this. They were different people and I treated them as such.

My father told me this story after my mother died. In fact that telling was the first time I heard that part of the story. I knew of my imaginary friend – it is a story of note with my siblings – but not the last part. It seemed a story from someone else’s life. I loved my mother even more when he told it.

She knew how to show up.

She embodied this daring willingness to leap into the moment with people. Inspired she would say “let’s go” to whatever adventure presented itself. So much becomes possible in moments like that. Trusting that you will land somewhere after the leap. It might not be the softest landing, but the earth will catch you. The earth is good that way.

I still learn from her every day. So many opportunities arise and in my mind I hear “let’s go”. Let’s see what’s out there.

As for John Ward? Well my memory relies on others for the details. A story my mother told to my father who told it to me. What happened at that door? Those few crucial minutes when imagination took the next step and pushed against reality for a moment? Hard to say, although something became resolved. John Ward and I did not need each other again in the same way. We moved on.

What I do know? We must witness for each other. Step in with someone to see them through. To go to the edge – however scary or exciting – and peer over. Sure some parts we do on our own, but overall having a witness seems vital. Without one we might never walk to the edge in the first place. Or we get lost in the process. Or we walk too far.

In those heightened states of being it’s easy to lose ones bearings. A witness reminds us of the earth.

Do you witness for others? Who witnesses for you? It might be worth answering these questions, because you never know when you will need one by your side. It’s good to know who will show up for you. Without questions. Without logic. Stepping into the fire of experience with you.

Knowing these things becomes essential for our wellness and balance. Life is stressful enough, so knowing who will arrive for you helps manage that stress. Isolation and stress work well together, so bringing in support lets some of that stress not take hold.

The power of being witnessed.

So take a moment and write down your go to list. Put those people on speed dial. Give them a special badge. Let them know you may need them at some point and that perhaps they can also rely on you.

Of course just make sure they’re not imaginary.

Sorry John Ward.

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