Love Up Close

The beauty of simply witnessing life.

My mother came to visit. This was a big deal because these days we live five thousand kilometres apart and I hadn’t seen her since I was home last year when my dad died. We email and video-chat fairly regularly, but that isn’t the same. It isn’t face-to-face.

She came at the end of September and stayed with us for a month. When I told friends about this visit, they paused, then asked rather deliberately how it “actually” was. A whole month with your mother in your house? 

It was wonderful. 
We didn’t do anything particularly grand. A couple day trips on the weekend when the kids weren’t in school. A few nice lunches out and morning walks in the park. Most of the time, we stayed home, just the two of us, drinking coffee and talking, telling stories, and remembering together. The kids were at school all day and my husband at work, and I sat with my mother in the kitchen. In the afternoon when my teenaged daughter came home, she asked what we’d done all day. Talked. Ate lunch. Talked some more. Not much, really. And everything. My daughter laughed at that and hugged her grandmother, then asked if we needed another pot of coffee.

It was wonderful to have my mother there with us in our house, just fitting in with our daily life. Some days, it rained, and the kids came home sodden and grumpy. Other days, there were errands to worry about and things going wrong. I had writing deadlines to meet or I forgot to do something important or there was too much homework in the evening or someone caught another cold and didn’t want to go to school. These weren’t perfect days and we weren’t all on our best behaviour all the time, but it was so good to be together in the midst of real life.

Close enough to really see
A friend once told me that, as a mother, she felt it was her role to witness her child’s life. To be there – really there – and share whatever he wanted to show her. To her, this attention felt like active love. She may not have been able to smooth every path or light up the shadows for him, but she could be present.

In those kitchen days last month, I felt witnessed, which felt like a blessing. It also felt mutual because there she was, my far-away mom, close enough to really see. 

As parents, we witness our children, and as children, we also witness our parents because they are the first ones who taught us how to live. Not abstractly or only by instruction, but up close as we spend time with each other. That precious with.

And in this season 
Advent and Christmas are now on the horizon, and this with comes into sharper focus. With grows loud at this time of year. All through December, there are Advent service and we listen together to the prophets’ petitions and their ongoing desire for God’s just and saving presence with the people. Days grow short, and we gather together in our communities, celebrating the season with sparkle, story and song. We travel through the cold to be with family. Then, at Christmas itself, we celebrate that Christ is born among us to be with us. 

This with emphasizes togetherness but also protects individuality. With is nearness and active, and every with echoes the opening to the Gospel of John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God. . . .” And so we, too, are called to be with God and with each other.  

This is a gift because, incarnate among us, the Word’s own life was witnessed and could witness our human life up close. “And the Word became flesh and lived among us and we have seen his Glory.” Not distant now, but face-to-face. In every face we see. In this and every season.

  • Katie Munnik is an Ottawa writer living in Cardiff with her Spouse and three growing children.

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