Earlier in April, I had the opportunity to participate in a prayer vigil sponsored by HSHS Good Shepherd Hospital here in Shelbyville. As I stood in the crisp, bright sunlight waiting for my turn to speak, I heard the testimony of a brave woman as she spoke to the audience assembled about the abuse she suffered in her childhood. Her story was riveting, her bravery was amazing and the end of her story was happy as she spoke of the people who had been there for her and for her abusive parent. She and her family have a healthy, close relationship now and she raised her kids in a completely different atmosphere. These results are possible when people care and when the cycle of abuse is broken and healthier behaviors are put in place.
Abuse is a learned behavior. It is not caused by anger, by alcohol or by drugs, but these intoxicating substances can certainly heighten its severity. Children and animals are sometimes the “collateral damage” of domestic violence. Usually, mom…and sometimes dad…….is the target of the abuse, but kids are hurt physically as well. Older kids, especially, can be hurt while trying to protect mom. I have heard many victims say “Oh, he never hurts the kids; he is a good dad.” This is definitely not true. The main job Dad has in the relationship is treating Mom well; when he fails to do that he is abusing the entire family. Kids who only hear abuse can be just as traumatized as if it were directed to them. In fact, the emotional “bruises” left on the human psyche may never heal. Bruises and broken bones are likely to heal much faster. The negative comments and attacks on one’s self-worth may not go away. Children pick up on the tensions in the household even if they are not always right in the room where abuse occurs. Don’t ever assume the abuse is a secret from your children. Stories like the one told at the prayer vigil remind us, however, that if the cycle of abuse can be broken, positive change is very possible. Kids are also very resilient and most have an incredible ability to bounce back. At the end of the prayer vigil, the attendees “planted” blue and silver pinwheels on the hospital grounds to signify the hope that can come with the ending of an abusive situation. I drive by the hospital several times each day going to and from my office. Each time I go by I smile at all the happy little pinwheels twirling in the breeze, a timely reminder of what can happen when the cycle of abuse is broken.
I dream of a day when there are no more silver and blue pinwheels in April for Child Abuse Awareness and no more purple ribbons in October as we mourn victims and celebrate survivors of domestic violence. I long for the day when there is no reason for my job to exist. But, in the meantime, what can we all do?? As children, most of us learned to mind our own business and not to tattle on our siblings or our friends. When dealing with abuse…….or suspected abuse………those rules should be ignored. Abuse is my business, and it is your business. If you see or hear something that makes you suspicious, speak up. Law enforcement can do their jobs so much better if we report suspicious behavior rather than ignore it. We can also let suspected victims know that someone cares. At a workshop I attended recently, the speaker pointed out that it takes one caring adult to make a difference in the life of a child who feels that no one cares. If you get a chance to be that one person to someone, please do it.
We can….and we must…..be kind. It is easier to smile than to frown. You will feel better and the target or your smile will feel better. Smiles, like laughter, are contagious. Every person we meet has some struggle we know nothing about; if we can’t solve their problems, we can at least not add to them. The proliferation of negativity in social media and in the political arena has changed our world, and not for the better. We are becoming a cruel and finger-pointing society, fueled by the ability to hide behind a keyboard and say things most people would never dream of saying face to face. We can change this….all of us together…….and simply being kind is a good beginning. Be the change you want to see.
I am reminded of a story I read in a Lenten Devotional about a little girl from the country who was visiting a large city with her family in the early 1900s before electricity was common. She was fascinated watching the lamplighter who was going from street light to street light in the dusk, lighting the gas lamps. She called her mother to the window of the hotel room as she said excitedly, “Look, Mommy, he is poking holes in the darkness”. Take every opportunity you get to poke a hole in someone’s darkness.
Finally, another thing we can do should come naturally to all of us. Mother Teresa long professed that love began and was best taught at home. I close with her words, “If you want to bring happiness to the whole world, go home and love your family.”
Shelby County Coordinator