It’s been quite a week for leaders on the political landscape – stepping up to the mark, not stepping up to the mark, resignations, sackings and apologising. In the midst of all the upheaval in Canberra, the hearts of mothers who forcibly had their children removed and given up for adoption had a moment in their long quest for recognition acknowledged and witnessed by the nation. I am such a believer in this idea of witness. Witness is solidarity’s sister. It is not vicarious. We could all see, first hand, the effect of forced adoption anguish and the residue of tears of lifetime etched in the crevices of faces, and in doing so we were not the same again.
Loss and grief is a journey that sometimes seems to have no final destination. To carry this around for a life time must be exhausting and relentless and I hope for many of these women and now adult children, they can at least take a rest from that journey for a while. I keep hearing Chuck Girard’s song Lay Your Burden Down in relation to these experiences and trusting that all involved can lay their burden down and rest a while. Where laying down isn’t an act of surrender but an act of rest of handing it over to another authority or sharing the burden so you don’t have to carry it all on your own.
I can find laying burdens down an enormous challenge – wanting to chew over and revisit decisions or relive experiences – instead of shaking off the dust from my sandals and moving on. What is it that enables us to be free and liberated some times and at not others? Is it guilt, ego, pain, the lack of a witness? When you meet witness you discover the power of observation and deep reflection, you notice the details and the nuances, you hear all the modulations of the tones, you see the spectrum of colours. You have taken the time to be still to stare and to soak in and soak up and come to know (word witness root meaning is wit – to know and when you trace that back it is linked to vis – to vision and to see). The sea of witnesses to the apology about forced adoptions gave me a glimpse of a vision of a world where saying sorry brought healing, hearing those words brings reconciliation and forgiveness and being witness to the events of a world where it is possible for institutional power to hear the truth of the words spoken allowing the veil of shame to fall away. As the Quakers would say “speak your truth to power” I wonder if when I can’t lay my burden down it is because I have not spoken my truth?
I hear your voice Hidlegard in your song of light as it is only in the light that the witness can see and in doing so brings more light to the task of witnessing.
A National apology is something I am proud my country can do. As a citizen I give thanks for the work done on my behalf by the Senate to bring this apology to birth and a lighter journey for those who might be able to rest now and lay their burdens down. As a woman, a mother and a daughter I give witness to this event and all the other women, mothers and daughters whose lives are defined by the experience of forced adoption. As a spiritual sojourner, I step into the light so I might see more clearly and know more deeply what it is to forgive, be forgiven and to speak my truth to power.