December: a season when many holiday traditions are celebrated. We plan and prepare food for family gatherings, we purchase and wrap gifts, we communicate with friends, we enjoy holiday parties, and perhaps we attend worship services. As adults, much of the joy that surrounds December festivities comes from the smiles of loved ones as gifts are exchanged and relationships enhanced.
Now imagine being separated from your family at Christmas. You did not plan this separation, and it is deeply painful. You have sent gifts to them, and they have sent to you, but only the sterile cable of a long distance telephone call joins you to them when the day arrives. Your feelings are in upheaval, and you are not sleeping well. You have a hole in your heart where trust used to be. You are confined and afraid. You are with individuals you have met only recently, and their traditions are not yours.
This is the situation in which Jennifer Jeffries, the young American protagonist in The Witness, finds herself. Brutally attacked during a trip to London, Jenny identified the man who nearly killed her and has been placed in witness protection by the British police to keep her safe from further attempts on her life. She is not allowed to leave the protection flat, so she could not shop for gifts to send her family. Someone else has done that for her. Although willing to participate in the British customs which her protection officers celebrate and grateful for the distraction that her participation provides, she misses her parents and brothers in Houston. She feels isolated from them and alienated from those around her. Thoughtfulness from the men who protect her results in tears.
Where is the joy which the season promises? Where is the feeling of wonder that we often see on the faces of babies and small children? Where is the warmth from a loved one’s hug? Where is the comfort of familiar surroundings and activities? The new year will come on the calendar, but it will not feel new to Jenny because her situation will remain the same. She will still be in witness protection, just as imprisoned as the man who tried to kill her. She will still be frightened as she waits to testify against the man who traumatized her life. Read the rest of Jenny’s story in The Witness.