This week, I was lucky enough to witness an adoption hearing. The hearing was necessarily formal, extremely short, and joy-filled. When the hearing ended, emotions overwhelmed the space. People were cheering, crying, and hugging as we quickly assembled for a photo with the family in front of the judge’s bench. I caught something out of the corner of my eye as I made my way forward: the family’s attorney pulled the child aside, opened a folio of paperwork, and said, “Kaleb, here is your adoption certificate!”
This day felt significant and was marked as such by everything from the official, legal certificate of adoption to an adoption playlist at the reception.
As I walked around the city that afternoon, I thought about how we celebrate significant moments. I realized that there are so many significant (mostly unanticipated) moments in life that do not have this type of ceremony or reification. What if an unseen narrator in an audible voice would say, “This is an important moment! Grab a witness! Write this down or take a photo!”
I am sure each of us has moments that are only significant in retrospect. We hold those moments differently, don’t we? I revisit them in my mind, sometimes turning them over again and again. Some of these moments pass me right by and I don’t even remember them because how would I know this person who just said hello would become my very best friend? Some moments – like one a friend recently described as “the beginning of the end” of her marriage – aren’t as joyful. But these certificate-less moments matter too, don’t they?
Some of the significant moments in my own life I’ve processed later by writing, making art, or talking about them with a therapist or close friend. In some ways, these processes generate a metaphorical certificate of authenticity: this was an important moment! I mark it as such even if days, years, or decades later. Having friends who share these moments with me and listen to my moments is one of the most sacred things I experience. We stand witness to moments from our pasts that perhaps had no initial witness and certainly no certificates.
I suppose witnessing is a ministry of presence that we can offer both in real time and retrospectively to all sorts of moments. I’d like to keep showing up for this sort of work.