Spreading Out Safety Nets

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Claire Colvin -Spreading Safety Nets3

A friend of mine, we’ll call her Candice, has a 14-year-old daughter. Candice’s daughter has a friend we’ll call Susan. Susan lost her mother to cancer a couple of years ago. Candice’s daughter and Susan go to school together and participate in many of the same activities and Candice watches out for Susan. She noticed when Susan needed to be taken bra shopping and offered to take her. She often asks Susan about the boys in her life. When there was a youth group swimming trip Candice quietly made sure that someone had shown Susan how to use a tampon.

I remember talking to Candice about it and one thing she said really stuck with me.

“I can’t save the world,” she said. “But I can do this. I can make sure Susan has underwear that fits.”

It is simple and holy work. What Candice is doing is ordinary mothering, most of it stuff she’s already doing for her own daughter anyway. But she has stretched out her arms to include another child in her orbit. She’s doing the things she would want someone to do for her own daughter if the situation were reversed. She has stretched out another layer of safety net underneath her feet, just in case.  

Sometimes saving the world starts in the minivan you’re already driving, the class you already teach, the office where you already spend forty hours a week. There are little moments of restoration all around us, just waiting for someone who is willing to stop and notice, to listen and bear witness. Each of us has a unique vocabulary made up of our own experiences, the things we’ve read and the things we believe.

We have the vocabulary to sing what Kelley Nikondeha calls, “Liberation lullabies.

My friend Candice speaks the language of 14-year-old girls. I don’t know how to do that, but there are other conversations that I can step into. I’ve been a volunteer for my local food bank for a while now and foolishly, I thought I had seen and heard it all. I was wrong. Recently a woman I’ve seen dozens of times before, came in. This time she told me a story about herself that was so much worse than all of the others.

She said it straightforwardly, as if it was just one of those things that happens. It was the kind of thing that should never happen to anyone. I felt so hopeless as I stood there listening. It used to be part of my job to answer questions from strangers on the internet and sadly, her story did not shock me. It broke my heart and made me cry, but I didn’t need to turn away. I stayed with her as she told me what had happened to her. I had the experience, and the vocabulary, to receive her story.

Each of us needs a place where we can bring our broken pieces. I’m convinced that one of the most essentially human things we can do is to step into hard conversations and uncomfortable stories and bear witness. Not everyone needs to bear witness to all kinds of stories. We need to know our own boundaries and respect them. But where it’s healthy, we need to be willing to hear the stories that people so desperately need to tell. We need to stand together and spread out safety nets under each other’s feet.

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Claire Colvin
Claire is learning to call herself a feminist. She has been writing and editing professionally for more than a decade. In 2013, her National Novel Writing Month entry was a science fiction story about a broken world where everyone was required to be as similar as possible. Claire wishes she could fold the world like a map so the people she loves weren’t so far away. She lives on a small mountain near Vancouver and writes at clairecolvin.ca.
Claire Colvin
Claire Colvin

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