Spreading Out Safety Nets


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.

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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  1. Tracy Nelson says:

    yes, yes, YES.

  2. Megan Gahan says:

    In a world where we (ok, I) often feel just so darn insignificant, you find a way to make us feel essential and necessary to that arc that bends towards justice and goodness. That is a beautiful, world-changing thing. Thank you for reminding me that the small things are really rather big, restorative things. xx

    • it is so, so easy to feel insignificant. I’m so glad this helped you to see yourself a little more clearly, it helped me to see myself a little better too. We have agency. We have influence big and small and we are far from powerless.

  3. Chalcea Malec says:

    So much truth here. Thank you for writing.

  4. Helen Burns Helene Burns says:

    Amen! I love the thought that there are “little moments of restoration all around us’ and our work is to notice and step into them. Xx

    • I find it so encouraging to remember that there’s not just one win in a day, or a week or even a year. There are multiple wins all around us, for us and for others and there’s so much hope in that.

  5. Shaley Hoogendoorn says:

    Love this so much Claire. Thank you for this beautiful reminder. I always want to do the big bold things but I need to remind myself that the small everyday things I can do in my home and community are just as important.

    • I keep hearing over an over in political discussions that if you want to really change things you have to think local. Start with the reps in your own backyard and move out from there. I think it applies to world change as well. There are going to be times where we do the big giant thing – build a school or a well or who knows what – but long before and long after those grand adventures there are a thousand other opportunities to act in love and hope and those moments can be game-changers too.

  6. Saskia Wishart says:

    Such goodness here Claire.

  7. So beautiful! Looking around to see the thing in front of you that you can do — it’s something I forget often. <3

  8. I love this so much. I need to stop and see who needs underwear that fits…. Thanks for this reminder that we can do small things that make a big difference.

    • It’s so easy to get caught up in thinking that only giant things changes the world, but tiny things change the world all the time. Here’s to looking around and seeing where we can help!

  9. Claire, your writing routinely challenges me to be praying about things, asking God to change me in ways that had not even occurred to me before.

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