Guatemala 2016 | Bearing Witness

Screen Shot 2016-07-07 at 1.49.01 PM“Are you ok?” she asked kindly, concerned by the tears she saw as she walked to the bathroom in the back of the plane.

I could only point to the TV screen as a response, since I couldn’t bring myself to say “Yes” or “It’s just a movie” because neither of those was true.

I had put off watching Selma for some time, because I knew the history and I know myself. To enter into the pain of others so deeply is a gift, but also comes at a price and it is one I have not always wanted to pay. For various reasons, I learned in earlier years how to shut off the deep feelings of empathy with the deep pain of others. It’s not always a bad thing, when work or environment necessitates it, but it carries the danger of becoming a way of life.

Throughout our time in Guatemala we listened to stories of deep pain told by those who still live within it. We had the honor of meeting with many people whose daily work takes them into areas of great suffering. We watched movies documenting pain and suffering in Guatemala and El Salvador, the effects of which continue today. We shared our own stories together, inviting each other into both the good and the painful things. As we processed some of these truths one afternoon, the discussion turned to the responsibility and privilege of “bearing witness” to the pain of others and holding that as sacred. We continued to explore the discipline of lamentation, learning more deeply and personally for some of us, exactly what that means.

After our week in Guatemala- our discussions, our instruction, our reflections- it felt like the right time to “witness” this movie. We had learned about the struggle between classes and groups in Guatemala and it seemed appropriate to intentionally spend this literal time of transition back into the U.S.A. thinking about the correlations in my own country. While practicing the discipline of lamentation on a plane might seem strange, to the person sitting next to me, who gently took my hand as the credits rolled, I have to think it was important. May we all learn to bear witness to the painful things in our lives, as people who know that even in the pain there is the light of hope.

DawnBioPicDawn is a 40-something recovering control-freak who is encouraged by encouraging others. She works “super part-time” as a Pediatrician and is passionate about exploring the intersection of mental, relational, spiritual, nutritional, social, emotional and physical health to bring holistic health to people. She and her husband Pete love hiking, camping, coffee and adventures of all kinds and along with their two pups Sam and Frodo, recently moved from the beautiful Pac NW to VA. She occasionally writes about life at: