Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Something I Can Do

A few nights ago, I had an encounter that shook me to the core.  It was late, raining, and the streets were deserted. My husband, cousin, and I were driving home from dinner at a friend's house when we came upon a man and woman fighting.  The fighting had begun in their car and continued out on the sidewalk.  As they shouted, hit, and wrestled one another, a little girl of about 9 years of age struggled to separate them.  She was screaming at the top of her lungs and sobbing uncontrollably, first pushing one adult and then pulling the other.  Her clothes was soaking wet and she shook all over.  We immediately shone our lights on the pair and honked the car horn repeatedly. Startled, the man ran, and the woman began to chase him, crossing the four-laned street in her pursuit.  The little girl stood screaming in the middle of the road, still begging the the two to stop.  As my husband called the police, my cousin and I got out of the car and ran to the child, who'd returned to the sidewalk and collapsed onto the wet concrete.  I wrapped my arms around her and held her tightly, whispering words of comfort.  At first her little body was tense and rigid, but as she felt the warmth of my embrace and heard my soothing words, I felt her go limp against my chest.  When the police arrived,  they followed in the direction that the man and woman had gone.  I was still holding the child when an officer returned with the child's mother.  Reluctantly, I relinquished her and watched as she and her mother climbed back into their car and drove away.  At that moment, I was filled with an overwhelming feeling of futility. I wanted to do so much more than just whisper empty words of reassurance.  I wanted to do so much more.  I wanted to help make things OK for her, to be part of the solution.  I wanted to make a real difference in her life.  Instead, all I could do was watch the car drive away.

When I got home, I went straight to where my children lay sleeping.  They slept peacefully, nestled in bed, without a care in the world.  My heart felt heavy as I thought of the little shivering bundle I'd held in my arms only minutes before and I cried for her.  She deserves to feel safe, to rest peacefully at night, to have a childhood free of worry, anxiety and fear. 

My sweet little girl

I'd heard stories about domestic abuse and seen it reenacted in shows and movies, but it had never hit home for me until that night.  The harsh and gut-wrenching reality is that there are thousands of children living in an endless nightmare of violence and abuse. The events of that night opened my eyes to a world of pain that lies hidden behind a semblance of normalcy.  I did some research and discovered staggering statistics about domestic violence and abuse in the state of New Jersey.  The most recent report I could find was for the year 2009 in which 73,709 domestic violence offenses were reported.  In 19,940 of those cases there were children present.  Sadder still is the statistic that 30% to 60% of perpetrators who abuse spouses/intimate partners also abuse children in the household.  Remember, these numbers represent occurrences in the state of New Jersey alone.   I know it is impossible to eradicate pain and suffering from every home, for every child.  I know that no matter how many children I help,  there are still going to be thousands of others that no one will ever reach.  But I also know that if I do nothing, the one child that I could have helped will continue to suffer, and I will be responsible.  I have made inquires and hope to soon begin volunteering my time to Shelter Our Sisters, a place where not only women, but also their children, can go to find help and refuge from violent situations. 

As odd as it may sound, I felt compelled to share this story with you because I want my voice to speak for her.  We shop, go to school, go to work and ride the bus with silent victims every day. We live in complacent ignorance of the horrors that they'll have to face when they get home.  It is the children that are the most vulnerable and that pay the steepest price.  Please, take some time today to think of what you can do to help. 

I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.
Helen Keller


  1. The other day I saw a mother screaming at her children, including many expletives that children their age shouldn't be hearing, especially from their parent. It broke my heart to see these little girls crying because their mother was clearly not the mothering type. I tell my husband all the time that we are lucky to have our kids, but they're lucky to have us too.

  2. This broke my heart. That is so sad that, that little girl had to see and be apart of something like that. My prayers go out to that child and god bless you for comforting her when she needed it the most.

  3. I have tears streaming down my face right now. I'm a teacher and I see the after effects of the situation you came upon everyday. The sleepless nights, the anger with nowhere to go, the confusion, the hurting hearts, the tears, the feeling that school is their only safe place and it's heartbreaking to see every single time. Thank you for reminding us to wake up - to find a way to help - whatever it is.

  4. hear, hear! i am so glad that this made you want to actually get out and DO something at your local dv agency. wish more people would take that step.

    today i started our recent volunteer/intern training, and i don't know where we'd be without them. i would love to know if this is something you actually pursue, and what you think of the training.

  5. Stacy,this is absolutely heartbreaking. Alex also told me the story and how much it affected you. I'm so sad for this little girl and I just pray that somehow she will get the help needed. I'm glad that you have been moved by this to find a way to help children and women just like her in need.
    This may sound crazy but about two weeks ago on my way to the hospital, the women's shelter in our city came to mind and I decided to look into it when I got home. I completely forgot since I've been sick but I'm so glad you shared this with us to bring it back to mind. I already started looking into it and it shows that they have lots of volunteer oportunities and a monthly volunteer orientation/class. I know I can't give too much time with a family of my own but I can definitely give a few hours a month to help.

  6. Oh Stacy! It just absolutely breaks my heart hearing a story like that and thinking, like you did, about what this little girl's life should be like instead. She should know the security and safety of a stable and non-violent home and instead these things will remain impressed on her little heart and mind for the rest of her life. But you are right, it isn't enough for our hearts to break over it...we have to DO something too! And I thank you for showing us how to take steps into action and for sharing this with us at Inspiration Friday last week!

  7. "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." ~ Margaret Mead
    As much as it breaks my heart to read this...the truth is we need to hear and read things like this so we will do something about it. You, I am positive, made such an impact on that little girl in just the short time you were with her... you have inspired me to do more.

  8. What an awful story, that poor little girl. You never know how your compassion and kindness has impacted her and will be something she can remember other than what she has been shown by her parents...how incredibly sad they don't value her more than their own issues.