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Why I Keep Vigil

Remarks from Domestic Violence Awareness Vigil, October 2014

I sat across from my dear friend in a diner over pancakes and coffee. I trust her. She and I have laughed together, cried together, challenged each other, have had painfully honest conversations, and shared secrets and beliefs that others might fine crazy. I’m happy to be with her. I’ve been tired and, just in her presence, I feel a restoration of hope.

“You know what I want to do?” she asked. “I want to create world peace… starting here in Bucks County.”

I smiled, spirits lifted and basking in the memory of how I’ve missed time with her.

“Will you be hiring?” I responded.

We laugh, but it is a knowing laugh. It’s a laugh that knows that I am sincere. When she maps out a business plan for achieving world peace, starting in Bucks County, I will be by her side. I share that hope, that belief, that it is possible.

It’s a laugh that knows that it will not be easy. Forget the supposed forces of evil that may set themselves against us because it is contrary to their vision. It’s a laugh that knows that sometimes, we trip ourselves up.  We cower with fear in the face of vision and dig our heels in, refusing to take the necessary steps forward until we can be assured that everything will work out perfectly. It’s a laugh that knows that assurance never comes, because in everything there is risk. It’s a laugh that knows that we just might be crazy enough to take the risks and a laugh that hopes one or two others will join us, thus making us look a little less crazy.

Tonight we keep vigil. To keep vigil is to maintain watchful attention. A Woman’s Place is an active organization – responding to crisis, supporting those who have been victimized as they seek peace and justice, walking with individuals as they empower themselves, providing them with support and a shoulder on which to lean when they struggle to find strength to stand on their own. We open our doors and step out into the community to teach and to learn, insistent that we cannot and should not do this work alone. We must do it in community with others if we truly intend to succeed.

Nobody knows better than those individuals in crisis that we serve that security is elusive. Helen Keller said, “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it.” We are often fed a myth of security. If we go to school, if we work hard, if we marry well, then security will come. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. And in those moments, we must remember to never turn a blind eye or a deaf ear. We must look and see what is happening around us. We must acknowledge the suffering and those who have suffered. We must be present.

Michel Martin, former host of NPR’s Tell Me More speaks of the Ministry of Presence. In the Ministry of Presence, we each have the ability to question and to listen. We can stretch ourselves beyond the single story that we may feel that we already know and don’t need to explore further. In the case of domestic violence work, choosing to believe that we know all victims – who they are, what they look like, what they are experiencing – is choosing to invalidate and ignore. Each horrifying and unacceptable moment of abuse and violence that is suffered is a moment that is important to see. The victimized are human beings who need to know that we see them, we know that they exist, that they are important, and that they are too valuable to be treated so callously. They need to know that we see them and accept our moral challenge to raise our voices and say that what they are experiencing is not acceptable.

It is not enough to stop there. While the horrifying and unacceptable moments of abuse and violence are important, how people survive, thrive, and flourish is also a vitally important part of the story. Pay attention beyond the assault or the fatality. Ask what happened next. In the Ministry of Presence, we insist on a diversity of perspectives and experiences that, should we so choose, expand each of our worlds far beyond survival and into flourishing. As we get to know others and we trust one another with our stories, we cannot help but to be changed.

Actively stepping into the Ministry of Presence can seem daunting. We must do so with grace for one another. We are human and imperfect. We will make mistakes. But maybe we’ll get a few things right and, in those occasions, change will be made.

Through all of our activities, through being present, we keep watch. Tonight is simply that moment when we pause the other activities, gather, and keep vigil together. Tonight, we mourn those whose lives have been lost, celebrate those who have survived, connect with one another, and renew our resolve.

The rest of that quote from Helen Keller – “Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run that outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”

We will keep vigil. We will be present and we will let those who have been victimized know that we see them and they are not alone. And, like Helen Keller, we will embrace the daring adventure that is life in this work and tirelessly push forward – even if, in our hopeful laughter, we know that the work will be hard. It is hard, true love-based work to build a society where all individuals are safe and can flourish. It is hard, true love-based work to create world peace, in Bucks County and everywhere. But as bell hooks has taught us, “Love is a combination of six ingredients: care, commitment, knowledge, responsibility, respect, and trust.” Therefore, as we keep vigil and when we act, we must ask ourselves, does the action I’m taking have these ingredients?

That is at the heart of flourishing and peace.

Thank you.

Ifeoma U. Aduba
Executive Director

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