Holding Space

published in the Tillamook County Pioneer 12/20/23

Neal Lemery
Dancing Elephants Press

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Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Holding Space

By Neal Lemery

A number of years ago, a counselor friend introduced me to the idea of “holding space”, being simply present for someone in crisis, someone needing a human presence in their life.

And not necessarily a friend who could offer advice or counsel, or direct them to some professional help. But, simply being there.

I’m a verbal person, willing to talk about almost anything, and sometimes too free to offer advice, even when not sought. Holding space is an idea that is more about just showing up, being around, willing to offer the proverbial ear to someone having a really bad day. Zipping my lip is not my first response, but often holding space is what is needed and what is sought.

Yesterday, the phone rang. An old friend, a guy I’d mentored and worked with when he was in prison, was on the line. He was in tears, needing to talk. One of his parents had just called him to break their lunch date for the holidays. He’s been suicidal and had acted on it, and was now in rehab.

My buddy was devastated. He was worried about his parent, but glad they were alive, and relieved they were in rehab and getting the help they had needed for a long time. His tears flowed and he choked up several times, getting his family woes off his chest.

I listened and listened some more. I set aside my judgmental thoughts about the parent’s drug use and depression, and the impact that had on my friend. My friend wasn’t calling for advice; he was calling so I could listen to him, so he could put into words what he was going through. He needed to vent and to cry on my shoulder. I zipped my lip, yet occasionally offered words of condolence, sympathy, and concern for my friend’s wellbeing.

I reminded him that he was a good man, a good son, and one of my friends. And, I listened some more. The torrent of tears slowed, and he became reflective of the ravages of addiction and estrangement that had plagued his family, and strained his relationship with his parent.

That’s all that he needed, and all that he wanted from me in this phone call. I listened and withheld my judgement about the parent and their relationship with my friend. I told my friend I loved him, and that he loved his family, and that love for a person who hurts you can be painful and difficult to navigate, but loving others is what we are here to do in our lives.

An hour later, I heard a quote from Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. “The purpose of our lives is to help others along the way.” She’d written that in a letter she had written, to be read at her funeral, her final words of wisdom to be shared with the nation.

At the end of the phone call, we told each other we loved each other, that it was good to talk, and good to share troubling news, and that sometimes, family life and the ravages of drugs and depression are tough to navigate.

My friend and I are here for each other, just a phone call away, when the tears overflow and life gets a little too challenging. Yesterday, I held space for my friend and helped him on his way. I know he’s there for me, too, when life gets too much to handle by myself, and I need someone to hold space for me.

12/20/23

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Neal Lemery
Dancing Elephants Press

Author of Be the Change: One Random Act of Kindness at a Time; Building Community, Rural Voices for Hope and Change; and others. On Amazon.