When I was in the restaurant business, a regular guest one evening described to me, in very moving details, the shelter that she supported. I was instantly inspired by her work of protecting victims of domestic violence and of helping to heal the deep wounds of being viciously hurt by someone with whom you had, once, been in love.
For the following Thanksgiving holiday, I offered to cater a very fine dinner for the residents of the shelter and those who worked with them. The gift was enthusiastically accepted with the key exception that the dinner’s location had to remain secret. As a result, all donated food and beverages were picked up at the restaurant.
This concession sharply captured the paradox of a cause that, by necessity, does most of its critical work entirely hidden.
This paradox presents the major challenges of finding the proper support from a community that largely is unaware of the magnitude of the good that is being accomplished out of sight.
My personal experience is that, whenever I spend time with victims of domestic violence, I come away from the encounter viscerally affected. The clear memory of their voices frequently revisits me - the young pregnant wife kicked in the womb by her husband, the woman beaten and threatened by a partner with a gun, the girlfriend brutalized in a car while screaming: “someone please help me” and many others. Staring at the dark abyss of humanity’s capacity for cruelty, betrayal and violence unsettles and haunts you for a long time. And the immensity of the task of healing the victim is overwhelming.
It takes a rare and gifted person to do this kind of work as a full time vocation. A vocation is not a career that one chooses, it is a calling that one accepts.
Tonya Geraghty, Executive Director of Safe Space in Butte, Mt is one of these very remarkable individuals. She gives us an insight into her involvement: “I have always been attracted to helping people and advocating for social justice, so Safe Space was a natural fit for me…it is a short term emergency shelter designed to provide a safe escape to clients fleeing domestic abuse and sexual assaults.”
Butte Silver Bow Sheriff Ed Lester is in the unique position of being also on the Board of Safe Space. From both of these perspectives, I asked him about the most effective actions to protect victims of domestic abuse. He had the following thoughtful answer: ”The most effective method is for the Law Enforcement Department to have a positive relationship with the people of the community. If people trust the police, the prosecutors, the victim’s advocates, and the domestic violence shelter (Safe Space), they will be more likely to report incidents. Then, we can get victims the help they need and hold offenders accountable.”
Ms. M. is an intelligent, articulate, distinguished and very artistic young woman. To me she is a most unlikely candidate for serial victimhood. As is frequently the case, I am wrong. She has experienced some of the most hideous forms of abuses of which I ever heard. I asked her to tell me about her wounds. Thinking about it made her weep.
She then responded: “I cannot begin to tell you the damage that is done when a human being uses a relationship or the boundaries of love to absolutely destroy a person. I am literally picking up the pieces of my life and trying to believe again that I am worth something…Ordinary day to day living has truthfully been one of the hardest things to relearn. I am uncomfortable in every situation. It’s heartbreaking because it’s just living and I don’t even know how to do that anymore.”
From a distance and feeling thoroughly powerless, this gifted woman’s parents followed her journey of pain. They are both wise and tough, a very loving couple. They share about the intense anguish and the relief: “We worked through fear, madness, heartache and uncertainty. And all of that disappeared when we had our daughter back and were reunited as family again.”
They explain what sustained them: “We learned that we had an amazing support group that consisted of our family, friends, co-workers, counselors, doctors, parish and law enforcement. Together they kept us going through the toughest situation we have ever faced. Once we heard from our daughter and confirmed that she was in danger we contacted the authorities, and they brought her back to us.”
Albert Camus famously gave us one of the most unforgettable expressions of human resilience in all of literature: “At the depth of winter, I discovered within myself an invincible summer.”
After this kind of life shattering trauma, healing is hard and mysterious and yet entirely real and possible.
Ms. M. is already capable of hinting at it: “The scars on my body, the memories, the emotions that I cannot even try to forget and the total humiliation of being tortured for someone’s delight will not define me…Evil will ultimately be defeated by God, goodness and true love.”
The unmistakable lesson of history is that it takes a long time for goodness to prevail. It is even more elusive when so many are busy hating each other.
October, Domestic Violence Awareness Month confronts us with the very pressing reminder that there are countless unnoticed women and children around us who are in grave danger. There are also many opportunities to identify, shelter, love and heal them. The testimony of victims has taught me that it takes many people to make it happen.
Some brokenhearted people are waiting to discover their “Invincible Summer.” We can help them find it. I cannot think of a more worthy goal to fulfil and define an existence.
Note: For important ways to help visit: safespaceonline.org